The year 2020 was a lot to handle and social distancing sure didn’t make it any easier. We experienced things we never would have thought possible. The whole world shut down and we were told we needed to stay home and that it wasn’t safe to leave. This had a huge impact on many areas of our lives. The reason being? Our brains are wired for connection. In fact, our brains perceive threats to our social connections in much the same way it experiences physical pain.

person draws heart on misty mirror. the words lessons from social distancing - a year of no hugs.

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SOCIAL DISTANCING AND IT’S IMPACT ON THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE

There are few things that are hard to deny when it comes to the human experience. One is that we are hard-wired for connection. The other is that we are the products of all sorts of messed-up occurrences in our lives. Our experiences make us who we are. The latest of which is a global pandemic. A virus that forced us to experience the world differently. One that found us in a situation of social distancing.

Mix the need for human connection with a global pandemic and it’s the perfect recipe for disaster.

We just lived through an experience where everything we knew was flipped on its head. Life was disrupted on a huge scale. I mean, the whole world shut down. Anything we knew in the months leading up to the pandemic no longer existed. The world stopped.

But we didn’t. Maybe we stopped leaving our houses, seeing friends and family and even a trip to the grocery store was scarce. Really, we stopped interacting face to face with the world. Our minds though were still very much active. In fact, maybe more active than ever before.

With so much time being told to stay home we were given ample opportunity to think. To go over and over our problems and situations.

Persons stands behind misty window drawing  a heart. Below reads lessons from social distancing. A year of no hugs.

WE WERE DENIED ACCESS TO OUR COPING MECHANISMS

It’s no question that connection with our loved ones is therapeutic. Who hasn’t felt better after telling a good friend what was going on and the shit we were going through? Often, when we spill the beans we are then met with a comforting hug and we end up feeling a little bit better. We as humans need touch, it is our way of connecting. Connecting with our friends is one of our most used coping skills.

In hard times we tend to gravitate towards our people. The loving embrace of our friends and family provides a sense of comfort.

Social distancing denied us this ability. The ability to turn to our friends and family was not an option. Most of us were left with no one we could interact with on a physical level. We were truly on our own for the first time.

LACK OF TOUCH

Going without physical touch can have such negative impacts on your health, both physically and psychologically. This interaction with another allows us to cope better. When we are going through hard times of stress and anxiety the touch of another allows our body to relax a little. There is this sense of not being on your own. Our bodies can read this touch as someone else physically being there to help us bear the brunt of our worries.

The touch of a loved one is so important and special. Hugs are comforting, warm and loving. They provide us with a sense of ease.

On a personal level, I have never felt so much anxiety over one thing in my life. Never in my life have I ever had to sit with myself and the thoughts in my head for so long. This time to think and worry lead me to a place of such anxiety and uncertainty for what the future could look like. Under the best of circumstances, this isn’t a good combination for me. The inability to have the physical support of my loved ones only served to make it that much harder. It truly was one of the hardest times in my life.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

A STRANGE NEW WORLD

While the world may be opening back up we are still trying to figure out how to embrace this strange new world and the lasting implications of the last 15 months. We all have gone through and experienced this event differently but still with shared similarities.

The one that I think we can all agree on is that having to practice social distancing was extremely difficult. We were all left missing our people. Missing seeing their faces, interacting with them in person and most importantly their hugs.

I don’t think I ever realized just how essential to my wellbeing the warm embrace of a loved one is. When you get down to it, the human touch does a whole lot for us. Not only do they hold us in the literal sense but they also hold us in the figurative sense.

Professor Robin Dunbar, a psychologist at the University of Oxford has found that we have a core set of, on average, five friends who we can call on as a shoulder to cry on. “We see the same thing in primates,” he says. “Even in much bigger primate societies, groups of five best friends appear at every layer, who do all their grooming together-their form of social touch. In primates and humans, these intense coalitions act as a buffer: they keep the world off your back.” He adds, “with our close friends and family, we touch each other more than we realize.”

Photo by Michael Fenton on Unsplash

LESSON OF LOVE

There will always be a before Covid and an after.

Here’s the thing, as with all difficult things in life there is usually a lesson we can learn. Maybe the lesson from all this is to slow down. To love the life we have and the humans we have in it. A hug is so much more than just a hug. We need each other more than we might think. At the end of it all, I would like to think that this experience has made us realize how important it is to reach out and connect with our loved ones.

Everyone needs a hug because we all went through it together.

IF YOU OR ANYONE YOU KNOW IS SUFFERING AND NEED HELP TODAY, YOU CAN GO TO OUR LIST OF RESOURCES FOR A FULL IN-DEPTH LIST OF MENTAL HEALTH SUPPORTS TO REACH OUT TO. PLEASE DON’T BE AFRAID TO REACH OUT AND ASK FOR HELP.

2 Comments

  1. Very good point about being denied access to our coping mechanisms. I can’t imagine how more extroverted people especially were impacted by not getting to socialize. Even I, as an introvert, was really bummed for the first couple months before my best friend and I decided to resume seeing each other!

    • Right! I’ll be honest it only took a little bit before I opened my circle to a few immediate people. But I didn’t see my family for almost a year and with a new born at the time it was terrible.

      I still have yet to see a lot of my loved ones.

      I’m glad you opened yourself up and allowed people access. It’s probably the best thing you could have done for your mental health.

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