The COVID-19 pandemic has meant different things for all of us. While some families have been separated from each other, others have been hunkered down together for weeks or months. But whether you’re dealing with isolation or constant togetherness, you can use this time to connect with loved ones.
Below, experts share joyful, creative ways to grow relationships and strengthen your bonds, whether you’re across the country, or sitting across from each other at the the dining table.
If you’re apart …
Solve a puzzle.
What’s flying off store shelves faster than toilet paper? Puzzles! They’ve seen an incredible 370 percent increase in sales, notes frugal fun expert Teresa Mears. And you don’t have to solve them in solitude: Just plan a “puzzle hour” with family on Skype or FaceTime. Making this brainteaser a social event boosts activity in both sides of your brain, slashing stress chemicals and bringing you even closer to your puzzle partner. (Find a good one on Amazon!)
Grow some memories.
Gardening boosts self-esteem and even bolsters immunity. And you don’t need a patch of green to reap the benefits, promises Mears. Green thumb or not, you can use gardening to connect with loved ones! Just plant a few seeds, such as symbolic forget-me-nots, in a small pot and ask a friend or loved one to do the same, then share notes on how your plants are growing. Says Mears, “When every day feels like the last, there’s nothing like watching something flourish to shift your perspective.”
Missing a milestone in a loved one’s life? Why not celebrate from afar through letters, says lifestyle expert Trae Bodge. If you can’t be together for a big birthday, consider asking family to write about a special memory of your loved one and send it to you in the mail. Then tie the envelopes together with a ribbon and gift the stack of “milestone memories” when you’re together again. Getting creative with a heartfelt project lifts your spirits now and later, giving you something to look forward to.
If you’re together …
Try a new recipe.
Food has long been a favorite way to connect with loved ones. And not only is unleashing your inner Julia Child a form of mindfulness, it’s also a bonding-booster shown to increase resilience. Consider picking a brand-new recipe you can make together to invite the little surprises that instantly lift your spirits. On the hunt for ideas? Try Allrecipes Dinner Spinner app, advises Bodge, because it allows you to adjust ingredients based on how many servings you want, so no food is wasted.
Create quirky rituals.
Give space to new family rituals — the more unusual, the better, because it forges a stronger “just us” identity, notes Mears. Whether you have “Silly Sock Sunday” or designate a chair the “laughing lounge,” where anyone who sits there has to share something that made them smile that day, celebrating what makes your family unique inspires you to feel like you can handle anything together.
Take a ‘trip’ together.
You can expand your world from your couch, says savings expert Andrea Woroch. For example, Michaels offers Facebook Live events, where you can learn how to make crafts with your grandkids, and Google Map Treks takes you to places like the Galápagos Islands. Says Woroch, “Even now, there’s no end to the places we can go if we let our imagination take the wheel.”
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.