A painting on a book, things you can handle.

Hunkering Down for Winter While Staying Connected and Resilient

It is a marathon, not a sprint!

When COVID-19 hit Canada in March many of us braced ourselves for a short period of inconvenience. Pushing into 9 months of the pandemic and lockdowns it’s clear this is not a sprint, but a marathon with uncertainties of where the finish line will be. 

COVID-19 has also highlighted and affirmed what we at Building Resilient Neighbourhoods have been promoting for some time: We need to build resilience to long-term chronic stressors, not just acute shocks. And because we are not in the “recovery” stage yet, it’s essential to figure out how to navigate our way through this on-going pandemic, to stay connected with our neighbours, friends, and family while fostering and building our personal resilience. 

We meet regularly with resident Champions of our Connect & Prepare program, and recently we’ve all been sharing ideas about surviving and thriving through the pandemic and lockdowns – ideas that we’d like to share with you!

Ways to Stay Connected and Resilient

1. Little Check-in Activities 

  • Make phone calls that provide a check-in with neighbours and family. If you take the time to go deeper than “how are you?”, and are present to the full range of feelings such as separation, loneliness, joy, grief and loss, you will be rewarded by connecting on a more meaningful level. Part of being resilient is the ability to be present to our inner experiences. (see more ideas below on how to connect through conversation!)
  • Add neighbours to a prayer list for those who have a spiritual  or faith-based practice;
  • Hang pictures of yourself and loved ones on your door (if you live in a multi-unit residential building) to help get to know each other or stay connected at a distance;
  • Share recipes (especially seasonal ones);
  • Engage with each other by communicating thoughts and ideas through a white board in the foyer, asking simple questions like: What was the best thing that happened to you today? What is one thing you could offer a neighbour, or one thing you need help with?

2. Connect Through Meaningful Conversation

When we’re emotionally down or struggling, we often feel isolated, too, and it can lighten our spirits just to feel heard and understood by another person. Sometimes, nothing’s more emotionally healing than simple, caring human connection! But if we don’t know someone well already, we can be shy around starting conversations about some of our deeper emotions. That’s why we’re a fan of “Conversation Works” by Victoria-based Christopher Bowers.  

This approach teaches lots of creative conversation-starting techniques that can be easily adapted to any situation. All we have to do is approach a conversation where we make it clear that we want to encourage each other to be open and that we’re genuinely interested in listening, connecting, and understanding. Here are some example questions that we can ask each other, inspired by Christopher’s “conversation cards.”

Try it where one person asks all the questions while simply listening to the other person’s answers, and then switch roles. You’ll be surprised by how much you share with each other!

Some suggested questions in relation to COVID-19 and the lockdowns:

  • What are the main emotions you’re feeling, and what is causing them?
  • What is the single biggest emotional challenge you’re experiencing right now? 
  • What is a pastime, passion, faith, or love you have that continues to bring you inspiration even with the challenges?
  • If there was one thing that could make you feel better right now about living with the circumstances we’re in, what would it be?
  • What is one thing you’d like to change in how we as a community are responding to the situation, and that would make you feel better?
  • What is one thing you could do to make yourself feel better, but have not done yet?

3. Connect Through Art

Creatively expressing ourselves through art helps convey and honour the complex range of emotions we may be feeling right now from joy to loneliness, grief & loss and everything in between. This creating and sharing of art helps us tap into our deepest feelings and connect us, helping us realize we are not alone.  

 We encourage you to watch this moving, beautiful short animation called “How to Be at Home that is illustrative of the layers of emotions being brought up by the pandemic and lockdowns.

 It’s one of thirty creative films from the National Film Board of Canada exploring the pandemic and lockdown in different ways. 

The District of Saanich has created a Hearts Together Community Art Project that invites the community to come together creatively while remaining apart. Children and members of the community have created unique clay and painted wooden hearts with messages of hope and gratitude. These art projects can be found all over Saanich in outdoor public places. This photo is from the display on the Rutledge Park tennis court fence in Saanich.

Messages of caring on a fence in a Saanich park.

The Gage Art Gallery Collective in Oak Bay launched a Challenge Crisis with Creativity Project, aimed at inviting people to use art as a way of engaging their feelings and to express the unique and collective experiences the pandemic has created.

Connecting while Physically Distanced by Diane MacDonald: Gage Gallery Collective
Connecting while Physically Distanced by Diane MacDonald: Gage Gallery Collective.

Toolkits & Resources for Staying Connected and Resilient:

As we all struggle to figure out what we can do to connect with our neighbours given all the restrictions, it is helpful to have some guidance. 

1. Together, Apart: Ideas for Staying Connect in Times of Physical Distancing

Together, Apart: Ideas for staying connected in times of physical distancing.

Our partners Happy City, (who are also members of the provincial “Hey Neighbour Collective” we are part of) has come up with a “Together, Apart” toolkit (PDF) with a whole host of ideas for staying connected in times of physical distancing. These ideas help address some of the issues that are being highlighted or created by the pandemic.

While the toolkit (Together, Apart PDF) was written for operators of multi-unit housing, there are ideas that can work for everyone. Here are just some of the engagement ideas in their toolkit:

  • Create a digital and physical bulletin job board featuring people who wish to share their skills or let others know about possible job openings
  • Create and organize a communal food pantry containing stale food for most vulnerable residents
  • Enable frequent neighbour check-ins, “a buddy system” to match neighbours for regular check-ins and support
  • Build and organize an emotional baggage drop booth where residents can drop off problems and/or emotional burdens by talking to someone
  • Create a friendly competition among residents as a way to promote self-expression while encouraging the use of balconies

2. Far Aparties Toolkit

While current public health guidelines may limit our social gatherings right now, these guidelines are evolving and changing. If you haven’t already seen Building Resilient Neighbourhoods “Far Aparties” toolkit, check it out for more ideas and inspiration when public health guidelines permit.

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