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Staying Connected during COVID-19: Valentine Edition

As college students, staying connected with family, friends or partners can be challenging during a “normal” year while attempting to juggle school, work, student organization meetings and other commitments. Enter COVID-19, compounding the stressors on students and placing a strain on relationships as people stay home more and see others less.

On one hand, the pandemic may have presented less opportunity to spend time with friends, leading to feelings of isolation or drifting apart. On the other hand, perhaps the virus has forced more quality time with roommates or family, and now it is hard to shake the irritated feelings toward them.

Victor Harris, associate professor of family, youth and community sciences in the University of Florida/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, focuses his work on healthy relationships between individuals, couples and families. He shared that “while we’re distanced physically, we don’t have to be distanced socially and emotionally and the key, especially with family and friends, is to stay connected regularly.”

Valentine’s Day brings the perfect opportunity to reconnect and spend time with family and friends. With the help of Harris, here are a few ways to help plan a safe, socially distanced, yet fun day to spend with friends, family members or partners.

1. Plan a trip together—for later.

The typical spring break trip is so 2019. That does not mean 2021 has to stop the planning of a perfect spring break trip for the future!

According to Harris, people have eight categories of basic needs, and one of the most important is feeling a sense of belonging to other people. Planning a trip together and thinking about ways in which that belonging can be felt when pandemic restrictions loosen are helpful methods to ease feelings of isolation.

Grab a phone, tablet or laptop and start researching the best vacation spots to travel to with friends or family to help foster the feeling of connection and belonging. Go all out planning the travel itinerary—think about where to stay, eat and visit. Planning a trip in this capacity could be accompanied by creating a Pinterest board or vision board of the planned vacation. Whether next door or time zones away, this activity can easily be done via a Facetime or Zoom call.

Graduating in 2021? This practice can still be an effective way to foster connection by planning a reunion trip a year from now.

2. Host a movie night of sorts.

Sitting down to watch a movie with family and friends can be a great way to bond and build connections, according to an article in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. Sharing things in common, such as the characters in the movie or the imaginary world on screen, helps to stay grounded in relationships with others and builds deeper connections.

“That is the cool thing about Zoom, Facetime and those type of things is that it doesn’t limit you from watching a movie together or looking at YouTube videos or looking at something on Facebook,” Harris said. “There are so many different opportunities to stay connected.”

While connecting via Zoom to watch a movie or favorite YouTube videos has become more popular due to the pandemic, consider alternate ways to connect with movies and friends. Host a drive-in movie night or get out of the house for a bit. Pick a favorite movie, grab some snacks and drive to a scenic spot. This provides the perfect escape from home while still being safe and socially distanced!

3. Star in a cooking show.

Prior to the implementation of social distancing guidelines, many college students used meals as social events. Restaurants at limited capacity, cooking at home and virtual events have all inhibited that option.

In lieu of the restaurant scene, get a group of friends together this Valentine’s Day and host a cooking show. Plan a meal together and cook together through a video call. It could even be a surprise meal where one person chooses a recipe and the others are only told what ingredients to buy, without knowing what they are making! The call to cook together is a great way to catch up on life.

Fostering connection with others should continue through sometimes-isolating times of a pandemic. “Relationships are at the heart of our happiness, our satisfaction and our well-being,” Harris said.

These suggestions are just a few ways to stay connected while at home or from a distance. For more ideas, visit Smart Couples 101 dating ideas, conversation starters and ways to spend time together at home. Although the resource focuses on dating and marriage, Harris said many of the ideas can translate to friends and family.

The ideas above were adapted from the Smart Couples website, a five-year (2015-2020), five-million-dollar federal grant project under Harris’ direction. The project’s goal was to strengthen marriages, relationships and families among Florida residents across ethnicities and income levels.

Valentine’s Day brings a time to celebrate loved ones, whether that be friends, family or a partner. While the day would normally be spent celebrating together, the greatest way to show love and care during COVID-19 may be to celebrate from a distance.

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