Many people are behaving as if the pandemic is over. Mask mandates are falling away and people are gathering again. Maybe they are right. I hope so, but I am still cautious, as I know a serious case of COVID–19 would kill me (respiratorily-compromised as I am.)

We’ve learned through the pandemic how connected we are. A new variant in South Africa made it quickly to become the most common variant in the United States. Even when we try to maintain our distance, connections shine through.

For mental health purposes, it doesn’t matter how connected we are. What matters is how connected we feel. Loneliness – already significant before the pandemic – has increased. A Harvard study suggests that 36% of all Americans feel “serious loneliness.”

The obvious antidote is to cultivate a sense of connectedness.

Researcher Brené Brown defines connection as “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”

Research shows people have lower levels of anxiety and higher self-esteem when they feel more connected to others. Feelings of connectedness create a more positive well-being for individuals. When people are socially connected, they can experience increased feelings of belonging, self-worth, and confidence.

How do we use our journals to cultivate feelings of connection? Below are some suggestions. As you do these exercises, you may think of people you’ve loved and lost. Take a few deep breaths as you remember those relationships and realize they prepare you to expand your love.

Make a mind map of your connections. In the center of a page, write “me” and put a circle around it. Add your friends and family by writing their names, circling them, and connecting those circles to yours with a line. Add other circles and connections… Online connections? What about people who deliver your mail, collect your garbage, grow and package the food you eat, and so on? Make a game of it, seeing how many types of connection you identify.

Write a thank you letter. Think of someone who has taught you something important to you. Write a letter to them to express your gratitude. Whether you send it or not is up to you. (Sending it may increase feelings of connection, but the exercise itself will help.)

Describe a time of connectedness. Remember a time when you felt very connected to someone… A relationship that gave you sustenance and strength. What were the circumstances? Write about it in your journal and take a moment to savor the experience.

Feeling connected is good for your mental and physical health, as is journaling. The two compliment and strengthen each other. You can write about your connections and connect around your journal writing.

What ideas do you have for using your journal to foster a sense of connection?