Seeing loved ones at a safe distance -- and in some cases, not seeing them at all -- has been hard for even the most introverted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

So how do you maintain relationships in the meantime?

Elizabeth Chase, coordinator of counseling services for the St. Joseph schools, said examining what it means to have a strong relationship with another person is a good place to start.

“Does having a strong relationship mean you must spend a specific amount of time in the same location as that person?” the school counselor said. “Absolutely not. Being in close physical proximity to another person certainly makes building and maintaining a close relationship easier, but it is not a necessity.”

Most of our closest relationships are with people with whom we have shared experiences and common interests and they make us feel seen and accepted. She suggests instead of sending a text or making a five-minute phone call with the objective of just checking in, to think about other ways you can continue to have shared experiences that allows a person to be a part of your daily life even though you aren’t face to face. One idea is to use FaceTime or Zoom while you get ready in the morning, fold laundry or cook dinner in the evening.

“These are often the times when we would have in-person conversations about nothing in particular and instead just talk about the mundane parts of our day,” Chase said.

Here are some other ideas:

• Use Netflix Party (which allows two or more people to watch a movie together in separate locations) or play games with geographically-distant loved ones on Jackbox.

• Have virtual happy hour. You can even make it themed, with attendees making drinks inspired by a favorite movie or show. Think a “Friends”-themed party with drinks inspired by each character.

• Use a website or app, like TouchNote or Postagram, to send a photo from any device in the form of a postcard. The photo card you send could be a memory of a fun time spent together and can serve as a reminder that there will be more times like it in the future. (For a low-tech option, simply drop a hand written card in the mail).

• Suggest a video chat to pick up a skill you’ve always wanted to learn from your loved one, such as having your great-aunt finally “show” you how to knit. Or add to that shared experience “library” by learning something new together, such as taking a cooking or yoga class online.

• Before the weather gets cold, have a socially distanced picnic, take separate vehicles to a drive-in movie theater or set up your own socially distanced “drive-in” in the backyard.

Perhaps the most challenging aspect right now is simply the lack of a timeline. “We find comfort and feel more in control when there is an end in sight,” Chase said. “It’s also how we motivate ourselves in the midst of challenges.

(We think), ‘My shift is over in an hour,’ ‘It’s almost the weekend.’”

“Focusing on a finish line allows us to recognize our progress and understand that our discomfort is temporary,” Chase added. “Unfortunately, this time of social distancing doesn’t have a specific end in sight and that is emotionally taxing.”

It can be easy to feel overwhelmed by negative feelings and hopelessness when a person believes their situation is permanent. Social distancing can add to this by making a person feel isolated and alone.

“If you sense yourself shifting to a more negative mindset or feeling like you are alone in your struggles, it’s important to take a moment and remind yourself that the current needs for social distancing and safety measures are temporary,” Chase explained. “Furthermore, while our individual experiences will vary, the need for social distancing is a shared situation – one we will continue to navigate together.”