The covid-19 crisis brought about great difficulty for many of us and the uncertainty associated with the pandemic results in a general climate of confusion. For those “lucky” enough to not have been affected directly by the pandemic, what has perhaps been most difficult to deal with are lockdown and social distancing measures put in place by governments to curb the spread of the virus.
The covid-19 crisis brought about great difficulty for many of us and the uncertainty associated with the pandemic results in a general climate of confusion. For those “lucky” enough to not have been affected directly by the pandemic, what has perhaps been most difficult to deal with are lockdown and social distancing measures put in place by governments to curb the spread of the virus. Indeed, loneliness in cities was already a problem before the outbreak, and if social distancing measures have been helpful in ensuring public physiological health they have been utterly detrimental to public mental health and the general morale of populations.
Imagine living by yourself in a small studio apartment in the city centre. Usually, you’d get your daily dose of social interactions from colleagues, friends and family. Suddenly you’re being asked to not leave your home anymore: friends and family cannot come over anymore, you don’t get to meet your colleagues at the office any longer, and having a casual chat with the receptionist of your gym or the barista at your local cafe is also no longer an option. You find yourself in the alienating situation of not connecting with a real, physical human being for weeks, and you feel your soul wilting with every minute spent in isolation.
We humans exist through the acknowledgement of others and hence it is easy to understand why being cut off from our own kind feels painful. In his book The Art of Loving, psychoanalyst Erich Fromm describes separateness as an “unbearable prison” and shows that “the deepest need of man […] is to overcome separateness and to leave the prison of his aloneness”.
We are sensual beings and if video-conferencing tools allow for verbal exchange with colleagues, friends and family, they cannot replace the conviviality of a shared meal, the touch so crucial to build trust and closeness and the soothingness brought about by the physical presence of a loved one. It thus comes as no surprise that those living with family, good friends or in a coliving setting, are those who seem to have coped the best when lockdowns were issued all over Europe.
The covid-19 outbreak is a good reminder of how quickly things we take as a given can change. To avoid drowning in despondency once a crisis hits, we have to know what matters most to us, focus our energy on the matters we want to and can change, and develop our resilience.
Beyond being an immediate remedy to the affliction caused by isolation, living closely together with other people helps us in this quest to build resilience. Here’s how:
1- Community is a way out of victim mentality
In her Ted talk on “The three secrets of resilient people”, Dr Lucy Hone, director of the New Zealand Institute of Well-Being & Resilience and best-selling author, shows that adversity doesn’t discriminate: we will all face general and personal crises in our lifetime. Resilient people do not feel targeted by calamity, they know that everyone will have their good and bad days. This insight is of course easier to grasp when you are surrounded by a community of people and witness firsthand how fate strikes in other people’s lives too. What’s more? Beyond offering an exit to victim mentality, a community is also an environment for mutual support, enabling its members to better cope with their sorrows and anxieties.
2- Community pulls you back into reality
The more difficult the current situation we’re in, the more likely we are to either dwell in nostalgic memories of the past or to obsessively try to piece together what the future may look like. While trying to plan ahead can be a good thing insofar as it may enable us to emerge from the crisis prepared, obsessively thinking about an uncertain future is futile and unhealthy.
Living in a community entails taking on responsibility: the community needs to eat, it wants to be entertained and household chores need to be done. Communal living forces us to return to the present and to cherish the small but most important moments in life. It helps us appreciate the uniqueness of each instant and realize that we should not let thoughts about the past and the future rule us.
3- Community presents the perfect terrain to expand your horizon
Communal living offers a wonderful setting in which we can learn from each other. A sudden change in one’s personal situation represents an opportunity to try something new and to expand one’s options. For instance, it is much easier to start building one’s own business while surrounded by a benevolent community offering valuable feedback, different perspectives, a test-market and potential promoters for one’s product/service. Not relying on one path only, means being less fragile to what life throws at us.
A crisis is a turning point. The covid-19 outbreak took us all by surprise and changed our lives around in one way or the other. But beyond adversity there’s also opportunity: we get to reassess what really matters in our lives. Too many of us took the people in our lives for granted and have now – as a result of solitary lockdowns and social distancing measures - truly learned to appreciate them. Beyond comfort we have seen that communal living offers great opportunities to build resilience and to be more buoyant in the face of future crises. Therefore I believe we should intentionally choose ways of living that will make it easy to meet new people and that will foster human connection.
What will the aftermath of covid-19 look like for you? Will you put your loved ones back at the centre or your life? Will you choose to transition to communal forms of living such as coliving?
Written by Louise Pignet, Operations and Experience Manager at Colonies (Germany).