|Friends of the Pacific Electric Trail|
Safe distancing while wearing face masks has been with us now approaching eight months as the number of US fatalities has exceeded 220,000. We slowly adapted to sheltering in place to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus. So many of us share the collective sadness of a loved one who was unknowingly exposed and then developed symptoms and eventually lost their life. The thought of grieving alone and not being able to attend their funeral in person is almost unimaginable, but that is EXACTLY where we are today. The isolation fatigue that has lasted prolonged months is taking a toll on how we used to live.
Lack of socialization dwarfs our communication skills and is one of the key symptoms of impaired social functioning.
One explanation is that socializing is a mental workout. To successfully navigate an interaction with another human being, you need to keep in mind a surprisingly large amount of information such as their spouses name, favorite food, kids’ names, and hobbies, as we read visible clues such as body language, physical well-being, posture, etc. In conversation with someone, if they cannot make eye contact with you, are you likely to believe what they are saying? The eyes are said to be the “windows to the soul” and we are missing our soulful connection. As social beings who crave interaction with others, we are investing in those relationships by being present in-the-moment, listening and giving feedback. You cannot effectively provide intimacy in a conversation that tries to exist in a text message, it does not even come close. We pretend that signing up for a Zoom meeting to see multiple screen-shots of our colleagues will suffice, it is only a consolation that we are left with to continue working.
Solitude vs loneliness, there is a difference. Prolonged solitude can reshape the way we think and make it difficult to adjust to socializing when we are free to do so. The question of whether social distancing could be affecting our social skills is trickier to answer, but there are some clues. For decades, solitude by choice was more benign. Its benefits have been extolled for far longer by philosophers, religious leaders, indigenous peoples, and artists. But there is mounting evidence that withdrawing from society might have some unintended consequences, even if it is done on purpose. Teenagers with a preference for spending time alone tend to be less socially competent and research has shown that, while some people might think that they prefer solitude, in reality, they enjoy connecting with others, even total strangers. These negative expectations are problematic, because they keep people from learning what happens when you interact with each other. So, it seems that we do need social practice, but it cannot be taken for granted. Regularly interacting with others teaches us to feel valued and helps us to accurately interpret the intentions of others, which helps us to have more positive social experiences. This is backed up by an abundance of research, including studies into the effects of extreme isolation in other animals, which suggests that social experience is particularly important when the brain is still developing.
As we approach the Fall, and with flu season just around the corner, we are already witnessing a resurgence of the pandemic with even stronger forecasts than before. To stay healthy and alive, the professional health experts are projecting that we will be wearing face masks until perhaps 2021 and if that means that we will have to continue to isolate and social distance, then that’s what I’ll have to do and not complain about it. I will stay connected to my loved ones by phone, invest in myself by taking up a new hobby or read the stack of books that I have been putting off. Healthy isolation forces me to look at my surroundings with a new lens and count my blessings. How do you handle extended isolation, please comment below?
|Friends of the Pacific Electric Trail|
Victoria Jones Friend of the Pacific Electric Trail
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