Young Adult Cancer Canada (YACC) has a fundamental understanding of what drives connection. It has built a thriving community that connects young adults living with, through, and beyond cancer from across the country. In the 20 years since YACC was founded, it has been offering a lifeline to thousands by connecting them with their peers.
In this new pandemic-driven world order, the way we connect with our peers has shifted. We are no longer able to meet our friends at our cities’ monthly Localife games night or escape room, join an intimate group of peers to a Retreat Yourself, or travel across the country for the Survivor Conference.
Instead, we are participating in virtual talent shows and game nights, chatting with peer groups online about our week, and listening to experts speak to different challenges we experience from your own living rooms.
YACC has quickly adjusted with these changing times. Thankfully, YACC has had our backs once again.
Nevertheless, virtual connection is different than face-to-face interactions. To help you optimize your connections online, here are 10 steps I use to optimize my connections to those in the virtual weekly peer-led support group I lead through YACC.
I add all of my virtual connection opportunities to my calendar. This has helped me to structure my day and keep all important information in one convenient location.
This practice has also helped me to ensure that I get enough opportunities to connect during my week. I tend to spread out my opportunities for connection over the course of my week to keep me engaged. This helps prevent me from isolating too much (which can be easy to do in quarantine) and, at the other end, exhausting myself.
Depending on your own needs, you might also want to plan ahead to optimize your chance of making your connections. Here are a few examples that can relate to our reality:
- If you are usually fatigued in the evening when a chat is scheduled, try taking a nap that afternoon or opting for activities that are scheduled earlier in the day.
- If you experience anxiety related to the unknown, reach out to the facilitators of the event to get more information.
- If you are forgetful because brain fog is a real problem, set reminders for your activity and opt in for email notifications when new activities are scheduled.
Troubleshoot your technology
I can certainly admit to having a love/hate relationship with technology. I am very grateful that it provides us with many options to maintain connections throughout these difficult times. However, it can be difficult to work with as unexpected issues can arise.
I always test the technology I will be using to connect with peers in the few hours before I join a call. This gives me plenty of time to adjust the video, audio or other features ahead of time.
I also keep a list of numbers I can call if anything goes array during a chat. For me, the first number on my list is my dad’s number. The words that follow are: “Did you turn it off and on again?” and “Maybe Google has an answer.”
I am certainly a planner (like items one and two would indicate). I like to grab the essentials for my chat and set them up near my work station. This includes water, paper and a pen, tissues, headphones, my laptop and its charger, and anything else I can think of.
I prepare for anything that has the potential to interrupt my connection building during a chat. I also keep a running list of these items to avoid forgetting anything. Finally, on this same list, I track my needs during a given call.
Create a mindful ritual
I always think about how I am arriving to a space, both physically and mentally. This is especially important because there is sometimes a considerable shift in energy from my previous task to a chat where connection is key. For example, I would not be able to connect as deeply if I stayed in a work mode or a Netflix mode. For you, this might mean having just put your children to bed, listened to the news, or done some chores.
I try to shift my headspace by creating a ritual for myself that advises my brain that I am now in connection mode (previously cued by changing environments). My ritual starts with making myself a cup of tea. I stand in my kitchen with my boiling water, choosing a special mug and tea for the chat.
This is the start of my ritual. And it continues through the next few items.
Dance it out
I want to increase my energy levels right before a chat to help me stay engaged. The best way I know to be able to do this is through moving my body. My choice of dance as the activity comes from (1) not wanting to be super sweaty and (2) it having an added benefit of lift my happiness level.
I often choose a happy song, like “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves, “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson, and — my favourite – “Can’t Stop the Feeling” by Justin Timberlake and the movie Trolls.
Next, I arrive to my yoga mat to stretch out some of my aches and pains. Especially now, I am finding myself sitting most of the day. Through stretching, I try to settle my body as much as possible to avoid having to use some of my mental energy during the chat because I am feeling uncomfortable.
This point will look very different for everyone. However, I have noted over the past weeks that this does not have to be anything physically demanding. Light stretches have helped me better show up to virtual chats.
Check in with yourself
This point helps me transition to more of an introspective space. I like to check in with myself to better understand where I am coming from when arriving in a context where I will have the opportunity to connect with others.
I take a few minutes to think about how I am showing up to the chat. I think of the emotions I might be experiencing, thoughts that are running through my mind, and if there are any unresolved or unfinished tasks that are still occupying some mental space.
The perspective from which I show up to a call will vary from hour to hour. There are no wrong perspectives.
Sit in silence
Depending on my perspective in that moment, I choose one of three ways to sit in silence with myself:
(1) I take three deep breaths, counting to four when inhaling and to six when exhaling.
(2) I take two minutes to do a sitting meditation using the timer on my phone.
(3) I take five minutes to do a laying down meditation using a meditation app on my phone to guide me. If you are unsure about the powers of meditation, I suggest that you try out what you feel most comfortable with and build on that.
I personally like feeling the presence of others when I choose connection. Online, as you are not sitting in a physical space with others, this looks very different than what I am used to.
The virtual space that we take makes it increasingly difficult for us to stay fully present during a chat. To ensure that I connect in similar ways as I would in person, I use a grounding practice.
This technique is very simple, yet very effective. I simply let myself relax into the physical space I am occupying, either the ground or the chair I sit on. I focus my attention on the points of contact between my body and the ground/chair. I visualize my feet sinking into the ground, my legs onto the seat, and my back onto the chair.
This strategy is most effective in the seconds before I enter the chat room. It can also be useful during a chat in moments when I find myself unfocused.
Capture the wisdom
I strongly believe in the power of connection. Through chats with others, I have been able to find key pieces of wisdom to help others and myself.
I always bring a pen and paper to jot down these key moments in a given chats that served to deepen my connection with others. These are moments that I want to hold on for myself.