Physical Distance Doesn't Mean Social Isolation

by WV Marshall

Humans basically are social by nature. We aren’t accustomed to being alone.

Social distancing shot that all to hell for the foreseeable future as we combat the coronavirus pandemic. Being alone now is our new normal for some time to come.

So, we must nix social activities – whether church, work, school, the gym or grabbing dinner with friends – so we can flatten the coronavirus curve and save lives. Rather than think of this change as the withdrawal of social contact, try viewing it as a balancing act between what’s good for many compared to what’s good for one.

Research has indicated loneliness can be bad for our health, Amanda Ripley wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece.

Amanda Ripley is a contributing writer at the Atlantic and the author of “The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes — and Why.”

“It’s more predictive of mortality than obesity,” she wrote, adding that loneliness was itself a pandemic, explaining that between 1990 and 2010 there was a tripling in the number of Americans who indicated they lacked a confidant.

Ripley explains that loneliness produces stress and that the chronic release of stress hormones suppresses our immune response and triggers inflammation. (And it is noteworthy to point out that the elderly, who are most at-risk of dying from covid-19, are more likely to say they are lonely.)

**What to do, what to do? **

Turns out there are four things we can do to help combat loneliness because being alone doesn’t mean you have to be lonely.

**First, exercise – and more of it if you currently have an exercise regimen. **

Physical activity reduces stress and boosts immune functioning. Most of the states’ stay-at home orders include exercise as an exemption to staying behind closed doors, so why not take advantage of it? Also, there are lots of exercise videos available either through cable services or smart phone apps.

“Outdoor activities are good. Going for a walk, riding a bike, those are all great,” Caitlin M. Rivers, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins, told Ripley. But be smart and strike that balance. Engage in a physical activity with a friend, assuming you’re both healthy and aren’t in high-risk groups and can, in some instances, stay six feet apart.

Second, social closening, or become closer.

Relationships are as good for the immune system as exercise, and there’s data to back that up. Ripley cited a meta-analysis of 148 studies that tracked 300,000 people for eight years in which researchers found positive social relationships gave people a 50 percent greater chance of surviving over time than people with weak social ties.

For social closening, your phone is your link. Set a goal to call someone – family, friends, coworkers, elderly neighbors – every day until the pandemic ends. Not text. Not email. Use the phone and actually speak to someone. Who knows? Maybe you’ll continue once the pandemic ends.

Third, mindfulness.

If you have resisted this movement toward tuning your thoughts into what you’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future, maybe you want to reconsider. Meditation reduces inflammation and enhances immune functions, “undoing the damage of self-isolation,” Ripley said, noting that evidence indicates prayer could have a similar effect.

Fourth, do something for someone else.

Surveys report that people indicate volunteering gives them a sense of purpose and helps to reduce anxiety. Volunteer – if you’re not in a high-risk group – to get groceries or run errands. Order take-out for someone. Pay it forward.

Disasters are our darkest hours but they provide a chance to let our better angels fly forth.