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Combatting Corona with Connection: Why You Should Say Hello to Strangers on the Street

Bridgette W. Gottwald, LPC, NCC

For the first time ever, the word Corona means more than a refreshing beer with a lime, that we can drink while bonding and connecting with others. This global pandemic leaves our world in fear of what the future holds. It’s natural for this uncomfortable time of isolation and “social distancing” to feel weird for us, because our brains are wired for connection, not distance. During these trying times, there’s never been a better time to reach out and say hello to strangers on the street. Given that we crave connection and acceptance, a simple reason for saying hello to strangers is to practice respect and the simple human need of inclusion. But there’s more to it than that…

Combatting Corona with Connection

So, why are we constantly underestimating the positive social effects of reaching out and connecting with others? Typically, people avoid speaking to strangers out of fear of being “weird” or anticipation of the interaction going poorly. Nicholas Epley, a professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago, shares that there’s a “cruel irony” behind the fact that people experience intense loneliness, yet don’t reach out to make personal connections – it’s a bit of a paradox. Epley’s research shows that, “people underestimate how positive others will feel when you reach out to them in a pro-social positive way.”

Enable and Perform Kind Acts to Provoke Positivity

Kindness is contagious and before performing it, we must enable it. An easy way to enable kindness is by asking others for help when needed. This makes the other person feel valuable, and like they have a skill set that could be beneficial. This can become a habit to help you interact with others more effectively.

Performing random acts of kindness produces endorphins and serves as the brain’s natural painkiller. Engaging in kindness when given the opportunity causes one to “age slower and have 23% less cortisol” (a stress hormone) within the brain. People who witness acts of kindness reported an improved mood and are more likely to “pay it forward.” Within a study at University of British Colombia, a random group of anxious individuals performed at least six acts of kindness each week. After a month, results reported a significant increase in positive mood, relationship satisfaction, and a decrease of social anxiety. According to Hamilton, with Dartmouth University, committing acts of kindness lowers blood pressure and creates “emotional warmth, which releases a hormone known as oxytocin.” Oxytocin leads to the release of a chemical called nitric oxide, which dilates blood vessels. I bet you never thought you could protect your heart and cardiovascular health by being kind!

Express Gratitude to Others

Gratitude is the highest form of humility. We often underestimate the great emotions that are evoked when we express gratitude for another person, and this serves as a barrier. In expressing gratitude, you benefit the other person, while also benefitting yourself, because it makes you feel more connected. Epley shares that the data on happiness and wellbeing prove this could be the secret to a happy life.

Understanding the Mind of Another Person

If we are such advanced “social animals” with the capacity to anticipate the actions and thoughts of others, then why do we have such a hard time understanding what others are thinking and feeling so often? Epley shares that our “brains are uniquely equipped to connect with the minds of others,” yet so often we don’t use it. If we pay more attention to body language, behavior, and practice “mental gymnastics to see things from another person’s point of view,” we will be utilizing key tools for understanding others’ minds. Epley, believes the “best way to understand the mind of another person is to become a good interrogator, ask questions about their beliefs, about their attitudes, and then be quiet to listen to what they have to say.”

Connecting during corona to combat negativity is crucial and good deeds within a group of people can lead to a domino effect of positivity. We can view this as a challenge or a game – we all certainly have enough time for it! Test it out, start saying hello to strangers on the street and see what your numbers look like. Let’s pioneer this breakthrough that has the potential to reshape our broken and sick world.

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