With the COVID pandemic, many of us have been feeling lonely and isolated. The rates of loneliness and depression have increased exponentially during the past two years.  We've been cut off from our usual work and leisure activities, deprived of in-person interactions with friends, neighbors, coworkers, and loved ones. No wonder so many people have adopted dogs during the pandemic.
Research has shown that social isolation and loneliness are hazardous to our health, associated with a weakened immune system, increased inflammation, high blood pressure, poor sleep quality, eating disorders, metabolic syndrome, and depression.
The Tao Te Ching encourages us to find ways to reach out, to recognize our part in the larger whole, saying:
"The Tao person creates harmony
From the heart
To build community."
My book, The Tao of Inner Peace offers steps to help people transcend their isolation to build greater community. Some of these are to:
- Pause for a moment to ask where you've found connection and community in the past—in your family, your neighborhood, at work, in a church, synagogue, mosque, or community group, or somewhere else?
- Think of something you can do now to strengthen your community. Can you re-connect virtually with a text, email, or call? Join your group online? Something else?
- Consider your natural community, the plants and wildlife around you. How much do you know about them? Find out more about the local birds, animals, and plants, recognizing your part in the network of life.
- Take one action step to connect with your community this week. 
These connections are incredibly good for our health. Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson has found this healing effect in what she calls "micromoments of connectivity," brief moments of connection with others. You can make these connections not only with close friends and family but a neighbor, the grocery store clerk or anyone you encounter in daily life. A simple smile, eye contact, presence, perhaps a kind word—that's all it takes. You can feel the effect of these connections with a new surge of energy and positivity. And these connections benefit both people, dramatically improving our health, raising our mood, relieving stress, and reducing inflammation to promote greater physical and emotional well-being.
I've been making more of these connections lately on my daily walks and routine errands, connecting with words of appreciation for my neighbors working in the local hardware store and grocery store. While walking my dog Ginny around the neighborhood, I focus on reconnecting with nature—noticing the subtle changes in the trees, the first spring daffodils, and the birds flying overhead. I practice micromoments of connectivity—by saying "hi" to neighbors working in their yards or waving at them as they drive by. And more often now, they wave back, reinforcing our connection.
Now it's your turn.
- Close your eyes, take a deep mindful breath and release it, then another.
- As you connect with the rhythm of your breathing, ask yourself "What is one way I can connect with my local community today?" It can be as simple as taking a walk outside, introducing yourself to a neighbor, or calling up an old friend.
- What will you do? Choose one simple action.
- Visualize yourself doing this. What does it look like and feel like?
- Now gently open your eyes and begin taking that one simple step to nurture your community.
 Ettman, C.K., Cohen, G.H., Abdalla, G.H., Sampson, L., Trinquart, L., Castrucci, B.C. et al. (2022). Persistent depressive symptoms during COVID-19: a national, population-representative, longitudinal study of U.S. adults. The Lancet, 5, 10091,Https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanam/article/PIIS2667-193X(21)00087-9/fulltext
 Cacioppo, J. T., Hawkley, L.C., Crawford, E., Ernst, J.M., Burleson,M.H., Kowaleswski, R.B., Malarkey, W. B., Van Cauter, E., & Berntson, G.G. (2002). Loneliness and health: Potential mechanisms. Psychosomatic Medicine 64, 407-417.
 From the Tao Te Ching, 49. An earlier version of this article appeared in Dreher, D. (2000). The Tao of Inner Peace. New York, NY: Penguin Putnam, now available as an ebook. A new audiobook edition was published by Penguin Random House in January 2022.
 Dreher, 2000/2022.
 Fredrickson, B. (2013). Love 2.0: How our supreme emotion affects everything we feel, think, do, and become. New York, NY: Hudson Street Press.