I don’t think any of us fully fathomed how important social connection is to our health until the pandemic. Hugs, conversations with friends, chats with colleagues and the daily interaction with your favourite barista – life is a series of interactions we have, all the days and weeks and months of our lives.
The social distancing took place in stages – at first no large groups gathering (200 or more) then it was groups of 50; then the schools were closed, non-essential businesses, and finally police tape marked off our parks for fear that the virus might be on the slide my kids have used millions of times in their decade living in Riverdale. Community spread of COVID is very real, and we are paying attention.
As the coronavirus picks up speed and the world shuts down, an argument can be made that we have more time to focus on health, sleep, time with our immediate family and the benefits of working from home – such as commuting less. We have eased the time-strapped feeling somewhat; but going out to work is something many of us actually enjoy doing.
Before Coronavirus I taught fitness at two locations for Equinox. I had work colleagues and saw at least two hundred students in my classes every week. My life is social to the max. Although social isolation is teaching me to slow down – which I, admittedly, needed to do – it is also proving that many of us crave connection. It is wired within us.
Social connection is good for our health. Dozens of studies show people with strong connections are happier, have fewer health problems and live longer; a lack of social ties, conversely, is associated with depression. Another line of research suggests that caring behaviors trigger the release of stress-reducing hormones.
We also know that tactile stimulation – like hugs – triggers oxytocin, the love hormones; research shows that touch can lower cortisol levels, and reduce stress and anxiety; even more, studies have shown that connection and the release of oxytocin can improve gut function and the immune system.
What a Catch-22: the thing that we need the most is the thing that we are not allowed to do.
Our society is built around handshakes and hugs, fist bumps and high fives. We reach out to one another in so many ways – it isn’t surprising that depression, stress and anxiety are at crisis levels. A Zoom party where everyone is toasting the camera is cute; blowing out your son’s birthday candles via FaceTime with Grandma is something. But the two-dimension way of relating will never compare to being there for each other.
Perhaps this pandemic is teaching us exactly how important we all are to each other. Perhaps it is here to teach us that we were chasing after the wrong things, that the things we need the most – love, kindness, and human connection have nothing to do with greed, power and the pursuit of…..what?
What were we chasing before?