We are inherently social, collective beings that are used to intensely engaging with other people; with our communities. We are used to chatting people up at work. We are used to calling people up to go grab a bite to eat or a drink. We embrace each other. We cuddle. When we are upset, we are used to receiving concern and support. When we laugh, we expect somebody to laugh with us. These are the rhythms of our lives that sustain us – our habits and our rituals.
This is all built into our ancestral makeup – we have always traveled, hunted, and gathered in social groups. There was no greater risk or greater punishment than to be banished from our community.
And right now things are different. Our habits and rituals are being forced to change and there are health risks that come with disconnection if we don’t shift to stay connected while distancing physically.
Lack of social connection has been found to be a greater risk to health than obesity, smoking or high blood pressure; whereas, strong social connection is linked to a 50% increased chance of longevity. A 2007 study published in Genome Biology found that strong social connection strengthens our immune system and helps us recover from disease faster as the genes impacted by loneliness also code for immune function and inflammation. Lower connection results in higher levels of depression and anxiety. The research goes on and on.
So what are we to do right now as a society being pleaded with to socially distance ourselves?
While we need to physically distance ourselves from others not in our household, it is essential that we don’t isolate ourselves and that we feel well connected, supported, socialized, and engaged with.
There is a tendency as we get overwhelmed with anxiety, stress, and uncertainty to withdraw, to isolate, to avoid, and to become apathetic. We must fight to not do this. We must stay connected for our immune systems, the health of our communities and to prevent ourselves from having a trauma response to Covid. Social connection and engagement are more essential than ever right now.
As an introvert who loves her alone time, this time in history is likely easier for me than an extrovert who gains energy from connecting with others. However even us introverts, are still collective beings and need connection to support immune function.
This week I call upon you to recommit to connection and to engage in a deeper way than you possibly have been.
Sounds, facial expression, visual and verbal cues, and how our mirror neurons respond to each other is helpful for maintaining social depth of connection right now. This means that a video call via Skype, Google Hangouts, Zoom, Facetime, etc. is going to have a much greater depth of effect on our immune systems and mood than texting or even calling will.
Let yourself sync with others and connect. Last night was a full moon and at 7pm in Denver and in Evergreen, and in parts of California too – people everywhere were howling at the moon – yep… Seriously… All in sync. All connected from their respective households. In Italy, Spain, and even Boston, neighborhoods are singing and making music together from their porches. Physically apart, emotionally and mentally in sync. This is social connection.
We are all simply molecules of vibrating energy and don’t need physical contact to be in connection with each other. It only requires focus and conscious awareness. I’ve talked a lot lately about taking time to breathe and to meditate. Sending thoughts of support, love, care, and compassion to others while we meditate or doing breathwork exercises will affect the nervous systems and immune systems of others as well as helping us feel more socially connected.
Research by Dr. Emma Seppala has found that connection has nothing to do with our number of friends, connections on Facebook, or the amount of community groups in which we belong. Connection is purely an internal, subjective experience. While going out and making new friends isn’t something easy to do during social distancing, we can generate feelings of connection to others and reap the same health benefits. Research on the Loving Kindness Meditation has shown it increases feelings of social connection in just a few minutes. So give it a go and deepen your social connection during this time.
How are you staying socially engaged and connected during this time?