The coronavirus pandemic has brought about a period of enormous change and uncertainty in our lives. Children experienced the sudden and unexpected closure of schools with little opportunity to say goodbye to their friends and teachers and we have had to modify our daily routine and social behaviour drastically.
Not only did most people have to sacrifice their income and the opportunity to work, but President Ramaphosa gave another tall order, “Stay away from each other” and even worse, “Wear a mask”. Human beings are essentially social creatures and we find comfort in being close to each other during difficult times, be it family, friends or colleagues. This request robs us of physically comforting each other with a hug, the closeness of another human body, the soft touch of a hand, a gentle smile – all primary sources of soothing in humans.
However, in terms of the greater good, we need to adhere to the recommended social distancing guidelines to make sure we contain the spread of the coronavirus. As with any change, there are benefits and side effects. Deprivation of social interaction can create depression, stress and illness. Lonely people have higher levels of the hormone cortisol, an indicator of stress. Consequently they have a weaker immune response and are more susceptible to disease. Spending days or weeks at home with limited resources, little or no stimulation and without social contact can take a toll on most people’s mental health.
As we navigate a strange new world from behind our masks, eye contact is the sole connection we have in communicating with other human beings, be it friend or stranger. As we slowly became accustomed to wearing this social barrier on our faces, eye contact was initially avoided by most people and left many of us feeling even more lonely and sad. Social distancing is very impersonal until we are brave enough to start engaging with our eyes. Smiling eyes are instantly recognizable as they sparkle and crinkle with the effort. Learn to connect and spread warmth with your eyes!
The 2020 pandemic has caused the largest disruption of the daily routine that many of us have ever experienced, often compared to a war-like situation. One of the most disconcerting things causing FEAR AND ANXIETY is that it may last many more weeks, even months, but hopefully not years. The key concept here is the unknown – we do not know how long this will last. Some studies have shown that mindfulness meditation can help our brains to stay in the moment, reducing our stress levels.
What effects might we experience when this is all over? Besides a baby boom, the negative economic fallout might cause whole industries, as we know them, to disappear, such as travel and flying. Our daily work commute might never be the same – we might think that three days a week at the office is more than enough while the design of our homes might change to accommodate a new routine.
The concept of online teaching for school children and university students suddenly became the new normal. There might be less distraction in the virtual classroom but not all of us are equipped to be teachers. Coping with teenagers and schoolwork on a daily basis are added stressors. The value in this is that it is creating lots of experimentation with alternate teaching methods and while it is unavoidable now, there might be benefits for the future –electronic classrooms can open up opportunities for many disadvantaged children in rural areas and help to solve the problem of not enough skilled teachers.
Research has revealed that sick people who are deprived of social connection and physical touch find it harder to recover from an infection. This is particularly true amongst older people and teenagers. While social distancing is mandatory, there are some things you can do to lessen the implications for yourself and others.
Reach out to family and friends and connect with them in whichever way you can. Let them know you are thinking about them and care about their welfare. Modern technology is no substitute for human touch and while a physical visit is best, a phone call or a video chat with real interaction is a close second. The benefit is that you can reach out to more people in a shorter time period or connect with those who are considered at high risk to get very ill from the virus.
Social technology can help to mitigate the effects of isolation and loneliness for the sick, but nevertheless, social media has its limitations. When we interact with people, a huge part of our communication is conveyed by nonverbal behaviour, such as body language, facial expressions and gestures which can get lost with social media. Be on the lookout for subtle clues and be mindful of the other person’s needs during these interactions – do they need food, medicine, pet care or just a facemask? Look beyond your own needs and show kindness.
You may only now realize how much of what you do each day involves other people. Therefore, social distancing requires active, conscious choices throughout each day. A virtual lunch or cocktail where one of your staff members show off their pizza making skills or signature cocktail can be fun!
Until a vaccine is available, we cannot expect to eradicate this disease. If we relax our distancing measures too early, we risk making things worse. But if we are willing to stay positive and do what is necessary, we can get the disease under control, get our economy growing and spread hope that we can hang on until a solution finally becomes available.
Remember that you are not alone – the pandemic affects all of us and it is normal to experience some stress or anxiety. Use the extra time that you may have to connect with a friend or family member. Go for a walk, do some gardening or play with your pets. Do not allow social distancing to become emotional distancing. Stay connected!