If handshakes and hugs are two of your favourite currencies, then for your benefit and for those you love, you will have to shelve them for a while and look for alternative norms of politeness and endearment.
With Public Health Officials strongly urging us to implement social distancing to limit the spread of COVID-19, the rules of affection have been inverted – and keeping your distance at a time like this is actually the best way to show you care.
What is social distancing?
It refers to any measure that deliberately increases the physical distance between people to avoid the spreading of a pandemic.
There are two types of social distancing:
Isolation: separating people who are believed to have been infected from those who aren’t infected, to prevent the spread of a disease.
Quarantine: separation of a person or people believed to have been exposed to a disease but who aren’t yet symptomatic, to prevent the possible spread of a disease.
What are the implications of social distancing?
Social distancing inevitably comes with social side effects, and mental health implications. Two UM professors gave us their comments on the matter:
Prof. Mary Anne Lauri: As strange as it may seem, we always long to have a week to catch up on things, but the moment this week comes and it is imposed on us we panic. A journal called The Lancet published a meta-study on the psychological impact of quarantine in pandemics. This and other studies report that relationships do suffer as a result of this, because frustration, boredom and a sense of isolation give rise to negative emotions. These feelings can lead to the deterioration of relationships, unless there’s the will to channel it into something positive – an example of this would be what happened in Italy where people went to their windows to sing and cheer each other up.
Prof. Angela Abela: Human beings are wired to connect with others and social distancing is considered to be stressful for all of us. I could notice how happy the students and I were yesterday during our first connection through online teaching following the closure of University last week. It is particularly so for those whose social networks are limited or for loved ones who have to keep their distance and even isolate themselves. However, there is a lot we can do to mitigate such circumstances and remain connected. Making that extra effort to video chat rather than phone or send a text message can already make a difference. We can also plan to spend time even if electronically with our loved ones during special times of the day. I also found that reaching out to neighbours and those living on their own to be particularly comforting for them. Research shows that being altruistic is also good for our mental health.
The important thing is to trust Public Health Officials and reduce social contact as is advised by them, as that is what is needed at present.