As millions across the globe find themselves grappling with ‘Social Distancing’ and the huge levels of loneliness and boredom that seem to be going viral as fast as the contagion itself, the folk at Stanford University suggest that we restrict ‘Social Distancing’ to mean just ‘Physical Distancing’ and urge everyone to practice ‘Distant Socializing’.
And in the current world climate, this might just be what the doctor ordered. Let’s take a closer look.
Why Is Socializing So Crucial For Us?
Human beings have an ingrained need for connection with one another. And this need becomes even more pronounced during difficult times, when people feel a strong urge to seek comfort and to comfort others, by interacting. In fact, support from loved ones has been scientifically established to soften our response to stress, and chronic loneliness is known to manifest as sleeplessness, depression and even immunity-related and cardiovascular illnesses. The damage it can cause has even been compared to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Which makes it imperative for us to address the widespread loneliness that Social Distancing measures might result in, to avoid a different kind of health crisis following the current one involving the contagion.
And the first step towards it can be understanding that ‘Physical Distancing’ which involves staying connected while being apart, is what the world needs right now and ‘Social Distancing’ might not be the right term for it.
How Do We Stay Together While Being Apart?
Technology – that has long been held responsible for breaking down relationships and tearing society apart, might now be the solution to the social isolation that this pandemic is causing.
Apps like FaceTime and Zoom, that have been used for meetings and online teaching, can be used as platforms for informal digital get-togethers and meetups. While you might be inclined to dismiss the idea at first, thinking about what makes an in-person meeting so much fun, and trying to replicate it in an online setup can help.
It’s important to understand that even when we do meet in person, our expectation is not for every minute to be scintillating or fun. It’s the entire experience of getting together, interacting, goofing-off, and the in-between-moments that give us a sense of connection with others. If you are used to having fun coffee breaks with colleagues at work, for instance, you can create a Zoom channel and join your colleagues with a steaming mug of coffee next to you and try to recreate the same feeling, while all of you do nothing together. You can extend this to cooking together with your mum on Facetime, sipping your favorite wine with a friend, or holding playdates where you have kids doing the same thing together, like drawing the same picture for instance, from the safety of their homes.
What is especially important at this time is to empower the elderly, the ones most impacted by social distancing and least familiar with technology, to use these tools and help them stay connected with their loved ones during this crisis. Many of them may need patient hand-holding as they start getting used to using this new interface.
There’s Also A Brighter Side
While most media sources have us believing that disasters bring out the selfish and violent sides of people, it’s far from the more common truth, and this realization is necessary at a time like this.
What they forget focusing on – are countless situations where after disasters, the boundaries of class or race vanish and people get together to save lives, shelter and help absolute strangers and line up for hours to donate blood. The last few months have seen scores of such scenes that you can find if you try and look up #COVIDkindness. In fact, even the act of countries choosing physical isolation, including those who are deemed low-risk, is an act of kindness and solidarity in itself, screaming wordlessly that we are in this together.
How Can We Get Through This?
If two words could sum it all up, they would be – let go. Lower your expectations from life for the time being. Work will not be able to continue at the same pace as it did earlier. And ambitions will need to be put on hold for now. Let’s just find joy in the little things that life is offering us, and hang on in there, together.