Showing virtual love on Valentine’s Day

COVID-19 shouldn't be an excuse to skip Valentine's Day.

COVID-19 shouldn’t be an excuse to skip Valentine’s Day.

UBCO researcher offers advice on stress reduction, relationship maintenance

Unfortunately, love isn’t the only thing in the air this Valentine’s Day season.

The spread of COVID-19 and its new, increasingly contagious variants, paired with public health orders, have forced some couples to reconsider their Valentine’s Day plans.

But is it really the roses, fancy chocolates and in-person dining experiences that show someone how much you care for them?

Dr. Jessica Lougheed, an assistant professor of psychology in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, researches interpersonal emotion dynamics. As February 14 fast approaches, Lougheed  shares some tips for a virtual Valentine:

Physical distancing due to COVID-19 has forced some people to change the way they spend time with their partners. Why is it emotionally difficult for humans to not have physical contact with loved ones?

There’s a growing body of research that shows humans have evolved to function optimally when we’re physically closer to the ones we love. For example, data has shown that our brains are better able to process potential threats and stressors in our environment if we have actual physical contact with someone we love—like hand-holding.

Obviously, many humans have been deprived of this physical contact due to the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean all is lost—it just means we need to find new ways of connecting to others and managing stress.

How is stress related to mood—and can it impact how we treat our partners?

Stress is closely related to mood. While people have different emotional responses to it, stress can increase one’s irritability and make them feel flatter emotional responses to both good and bad. It can also make people feel like they’re just having a more difficult time navigating the multiple dimensions of day-to-day life like chores, running a household, school, work, kids, friends—all of these things can seem more difficult without the physical support of your partner or close social contacts.

Staying connected, even virtually, helps share the burden of the emotional loads that we’re all carrying around right now. If we don’t take the time to resolve our stress, it can grow over time, and indeed negatively affect our interpersonal relationships. So my recommendation is to acknowledge stress and then find an outlet for it—it could be physical exercise, safely spending time outdoors or even having a good cry, which can really help end the stress response cycle.

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching—what advice do you have for those who aren’t comfortable with celebrating in-person, but have a partner who wants to see them?

Being upfront and honest with your partner is by far the best thing you can do—and have the conversation early on, don’t leave it to the last minute. Everyone has a different personal comfort level with managing risks related to COVID-19. Perhaps it stems from living in a multi-generational household or working with someone who has a weakened immune system—no matter what the reasoning, it’s important to emphasize it’s not about not wanting to see your partner. It’s about public health orders and keeping the community safe.

All relationships require ongoing effort to maintain them. You don’t just find a partner and everything is wonderful. Instead, solid, healthy relationships are built on a foundation of honesty, love and care.

Can you have a meaningful Valentine’s Day while apart?

Absolutely! Plenty of businesses offer virtual Valentine’s Day events like wine tastings or art classes. There are all sorts of special activities couples can do together while being apart—it just may require some creative thinking.

I also want to note that it’s actually the little gestures over time that make the biggest impact. Think about sending your partner a message to let them know they’re on your mind or how much you appreciate them working together to solve a problem—showing you value the little, everyday actions are as important as the grand gestures in maintaining a healthy relationship.

About UBC’s Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

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