The Social Distancing Struggle
What kind of distance should we keep?
We have been hearing the term “social distance” repeatedly for more than seven months now. Yet, is it really working in keeping us healthy? Yes, in that we keep our distance from others but no, in that we are losing the ability to connect on a human level with others. How many meaningful relationships are being lost, broken, or not even created with this “new normal?”
Back in March, I posted about this social distancing thing. To be honest, I despise the phrase. I really do. Because we, as human beings, were created to be social, to be around others. We are wired to thrive on interactions, touch, and love.
Changing the Narrative
I have heard countless interviews with many mental health professionals who suggest we should change the phrasing to not “social” distancing but “physical” distancing. Because this is really what we need. We should not be physically near each other but, now, more than ever, we need to be socially connected to survive what we are facing with the COVID-19, the upcoming cold and flu season, or any other illnesses that we could face in our future.
When we look at many statistics from the past seven months, we are seeing more and more people are becoming ill and dying out of loneliness. People are not able to spend time with their loved ones, so say hello or goodbye. Yes, social media help fill some of that void of interaction.
What we do need more of in this time of physical distancing is more phone calls, drive-by celebration parades, or any kind of human interaction while ensuring the health safety of those around you. As human beings, we need to be a part of something; we need to belong.
We Need Each Other.
Now, more than ever. Studies have shown that we crave human interaction. Being with others can have health benefits such as lowered blood pressure. Sharing interests and activities give us a sense of belonging. Working with others gives meaning and helps people feel important and valued. Hanging out boosts our emotional states.
I recently read the book Friendship, The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life’s Fundamental Bond. The author, Lydia Dentworth, cited numerous studies done about the effect of friendship, socializing, and touch on the human brain and how those affect us as people, both emotionally and mentally. We crave touch. We crave being in social circles.
The Science Behind Being Social and Your Health
Dentworth cites a 1998 study done by Sheldon Cohen at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, which tested the importance of diversity in relationships. The study ultimately showed that more diversity in relationships (being part of more circles) proved to be protective. “Those with more types of social ties were less susceptible to common colds and did better on several other measures related to fighting off the virus. Those who reported regularly engaging with only one to three types of social ties were four times more likely to get sick than those who spoke regularly with people in six or more types of relationships.”
Need it broken down more? According to John M. Grohol, Psy.D., “‘social distancing’ is not only a misnomer, but it is also exactly the opposite of what we want people to do during any type of natural disaster.” Social interaction is necessary for our mental health and well-being. Social interactions can continue during this pandemic; they will just look and feel different. More than ever before in our history, we have ways to remain social, while maintaining physical distance. We are fortunate to have the means to stay virtually connected through social networks, video and phone calls, and even mailing letters. It is especially important to ensure continued connections with people who are typically marginalized and isolated, including the elderly, undocumented immigrants, homeless persons, and those with mental illness (Galea et al, 2020).
So what does all of this really mean? People need people to stay healthy.
There is a movement, even recognized by the World Health Organization, that we need to change the phrasing to something that shows we need to stay connected. Just at least 6 feet or more apart. It’s easy to jump onto this movement and start changing your phrasing and will make you and everyone around you feel better and more connected!
Maintaining physical distance is an important strategy to slow the spread of COVID-19, but please stay socially connected. It’s how we will get through this – together.