Social distancing. That is the term du jour. All levels of government are telling us that we have to be in isolation for our health. This is our job as a society, in our fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. Indeed, I hope that each and everyone of you is exercising extreme caution and avoiding contact with anyone you do not live with. But rather than social distancing, I encourage you to think of what we are doing as spatial distancing.
Why the difference, you ask?
Research has shown that the magnitude of risk presented by social isolation is very similar in magnitude to that of obesity, smoking, lack of access to care and physical inactivity. More alarming (and specially relevant during this time in which we are fighting for our health) loneliness can lead to long-term “fight-or-flight” stress signaling, which negatively affects immune system functioning. Simply put, people who feel lonely have less immunity and more inflammation than people who don’t. From a mental health perspective, numerous studies have shown that social isolation increases the risk of suicide.
It is likely that many of you are struggling right now. Many of you are feeling lonely, missing your friends and family, and are experiencing sadness and perhaps even depression.
What can we do?
Practice spatial/physical distancing versus social distancing. Engage with people. This is the time to call friends who you have not spoken to in years. This is a great time to use our technology to connect. Just last night I Zoomed with a friend in New Zealand and a friend in BC at the same time! I hardly have time to talk to these friends in my regular life, and scheduling a time for all 3 of us to talk together (in 3 different time zones!) just seemed impossible! During this time of physical distancing, we were able to arrange this meeting within hours.
Be creative, reach out to people you haven’t reached out to in ages. Talk to your friends across the street; go on virtual museum and zoo tours together. I have been hearing of Netflix parties, of people having very big chat groups going (hang outs, whatsapp, imsg). While our ability to be physically close to people has been closed off, we do not have to be lonely. In fact, this is not the time to be lonely, as we are all under a lot of stress.
If you are struggling with feelings of loneliness, honour your feelings. Let the tears come. Sit with your feelings, and don’t judge yourself for having these feelings. But I encourage you to reach out to people whenever you can. If you find yourself having suicidal thoughts, please reach out to your psychologist, or visit Canada Life Line.
Of course, if you are an introvert. Enjoy this time! That being said, even if you are an introvert, I encourage you to engage in 1-2 social interactions per day. At the very least, your extrovert friends will appreciate it, but very likely your immune system and mental health will also get a boost.