Staying Sane While Socially Distant

March 29, 2020

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Here I am, under a shelter-in-place order, as most are by now. However, even before the order, I started distancing myself and limiting interactions with others, not because of the fact that I’m a high-risk, but because I consider everyone a threat. I am now accustomed to choosing when and where I go, but it feels different now that someone controls that. Being deprived of social connection can create more illness due to stress.

I have no doubt that this season will pass; in the meantime, I am looking at how we can optimize this extraordinary opportunity, this phenomenon Twitter is calling #TogetherAtHome.

The lack of social connections increases tension, and people who are lonely have a higher level of hormone cortisol which is an indicator of stress. Isolation can lead to depression and other conditions. Other factors, like loss of livelihood and routines, will send some people into depression. Another concern is increased family conflict, because people are forced to spend unusual amounts of time together, many in confined spaces.

We all need that human connection, which I’ll discuss later, but first for people who are used to working from home, social distancing isn’t a huge change for them. If you’re new to this and can’t figure out what to do to occupy your time, and to relieve your stress, here are some helpful tips:

  • Reach out to your circle. While you cannot visit and hug, you can interact via phone, Facetime, Zoom or Skype. Set up a plan to contact at least one person each day. Instead of feeling distanced and isolated use this great technology that is available to get closer to loved ones.
  • Use this as a time of reflection; ask yourself what I have neglected that I can now focus on? Choose one of the things that would bring you a sense of pleasure and satisfaction. Maybe it’s as simple as making time to read a novel, or as complex as writing your memoir. Just do something that will bring you joy.
  • Add an exercise routine to your day. Working out is important for our physical and mental health. It’s a natural antidepressant. It can be as simple as walking up and down the stairs a few times, or tuning into a YouTube exercise video.
  • Learn to Meditate: Meditation is an age-old form of mind-body medicine. During meditation, you develop intentional focus, minimizing random thoughts about the past or future. Research has found that it helps reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  • Choose one important task that needs to be done. Choose something you can do at home of course. You know, a chore on that to-do list that’s been hanging over you for weeks, months, years? You might not enjoy doing it, but you will enjoy having done it. For every accomplishment, no matter how small, reward yourself.

So now let’s discuss human connection. Can we live without it? According to Abraham Maslow, we have five categories of needs: physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.

In this theory, higher needs in the hierarchy begin to emerge when people feel they have sufficiently satisfied the more basic ones. For the sake of human connection I’ll only focus on love and belonging.

“The need in the hierarchy involves feeling loved and accepted. This need includes both romantic relationships as well as ties to friends and family members. It also includes our need to feel that we belong to a social group. Importantly, this need encompasses both feeling loved and feeling love towards others.” (Maslow)

Can we live without human connection? No, we cannot and since Maslow, many researchers have continued to explore how love and belonging needs impact well-being. For example, having social connections is related to better physical health and, conversely, feeling isolated, has negative consequences for health and well-being. When we are connected we feel happiness, sadness, frustration, sympathy, anger, etc. We are able to connect with each other in that sense, emotionally.

A portrait of a woman with a flower blocking her face.

Untitled by Ozan Uysal

But what about the physical connection? Don’t we need intimacy, hugs, kisses sex? In the age of social distance, here are some things you can do if you’re separated:

  • Practice extreme self-care: Meditate, eat well, get enough sleep, exercise in whatever capacity you can, have regular orgasms. If you are isolated with a partner, get lots of healing touch, and continue seeing your therapist or coach, video conferencing if possible—if you don’t have one, seek one out (from Healers’ directory perhaps). Do whatever it is you need to raise your vibration and stay well.
  • Learn something new about intimacy and sex.
  • Give yourself pleasure. Try something new. This is an obvious time to work on the phone-sex craft you’ve always intended on mastering.

You’ll feel better and less isolated if you’re intentionally doing something that you enjoy rather than just passing time.

“Scientific research has shown that compassion is good for our health and good for the world. It provides a buffer against stress…Preoccupations with one’s own happiness in every sense disappear, which is very effective in undoing a state of depression or anxiety.” (Anouk Prop)

Donating your time to causes about which you’re passionate is a more arduous pastime but compassion is a powerful form of therapy.

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