In our highly connected world, is it really possible to run away from a pandemic ? Many have left the busy cities and suburbs to retire in their mountain estates, thinking that it would be a safer refuge. But the facts are, a pandemic knows no geographic barriers, it already is everywhere, even where people and officials say that it is not. However, if seeking refuge in house in remote countrysides won’t stop the pandemic from spreading, it may make the lockdown easier on you.
THE PSYCHOLOGICAL IMPACT OF SOCIAL DISTANCING
That is the one thing that has greatly affecting the human condition: we cannot escape death. However, we can make efforts to delay it. And that is one of the reasons why governments around the globe are restricting people’s movements and enforcing social distancing. Reasonable steps to decrease the curb of the contagion. But these measures affect us.
In terms of work, for people like me, this “house arrest” is actually not a bad development.
However, on a personal level, the situation has far more of an impact. Why ? Primarily because us, “Homo Sapiens”, are social animals. And studies concur with that: socially active people tend to have higher levels of physical and psychological wellbeing. As humans, we have a strong need for inclusion within a collective. Today, with social gathering not only prohibited, but dangerous, loneliness is knocking at our doors… For some people, this sense of full isolation will be extremely stressful.
WHEN ISOLATION PUTS US IN DANGER
What aggravates the situation in a case of lockdown is the fact that normally, in times of crisis, human beings like to come together to share experiences, to show solidarity, to help each other. It is during such times that we need support the most, as the sense of “togetherness” can help protect us from the negative impact of dreadful events on our mental health.
So what is asked from us now – although absolutely necessary, I will not stress it enough ! – is the complete opposite of what we would normally do. For many, not being able to seek the comfort of others increases the level of stress and anxiety already caused by the events. Sometimes, it may also create paranoia, which is very understandable when one is threatened by and “invisible enemy”.
STAYING CONNECTED. WITH OTHERS AND WITH OURSELVES
Hopefully, many of us have close family members or roommates they are isolated with, and who can serve as a buffer to minimize potential stress. Company in a lockdown helps us to cope, even though, in some situations, the extended amount of time spent between walls can raise tensions (see our article on the Increase of domestic violence). Nevertheless, this pandemic provides an opportunity to reconnect and strengthen relationships. Within a family, within a couple, within a group of roommates or friends.
Many of us are trying to stay connected with the outside world through calls, texts, emails or any other virtual means. And these alternative ways of remaining in touch help us get that sense of togetherness that is much needed. And this is especially important for people who live alone, as those are the ones that everyone else tends to forget, though they have fewer resources to lean upon in this time of crisis.
On the positive side, though, social isolation might be the unprecedented opportunity to practice self-reflection, an exercise that many try to avoid, in our over-busy world. We have been conditioned all our lives to live by a schedule and run from one appointment to the other. We have become experts at running away from ourselves. Yet, embarking on an inner journey can be a great learning experience. It implies discovering what we stand for, finding out our strengths and weaknesses, our values, our beliefs, our deep desires, what meaning we give to our life… On this inner journey, some of us might discover what makes them happier, and have more of that. Or what makes them unhappy, and try to have less of that.
During this isolation, I have had some of the deepest conversations with people around me that I barely know, mainly through social media. We express things that maybe we never had the time or the courage to express in a “normal” life. Many of us probably have been more in touch with their own feelings, have reflected on mistakes they have made along their lives.
Such a journey of reflection may have great transformative impact on us. And maybe this is what we need for change. Because the world will most certainly never be the same as before. I know that I won’t be.