How do humans respond to Social Distancing?

In this times of pandemic Social Distancing affects almost every aspect of our lives. Nothing in recorded human history can compare. How does it affect us?

Humans are extremely social creatures, cooperation and communication deeply embedded in our genetics. Therefore, It comes as no surprise that many – especially the extroverted – suffer greatly from Social Distancing. In a time of grave existential threat this is particularly harsh. Disorientation, depression and addiction might rise as a consequence and the collective trauma and fear of contracting disease are likely to affect uns far beyond the end of the pandemic (which has only just begun and will last for years [7]). [1]

Social retreat, fueled by social media, has been on the rise anyways. Now as technology is the number one remedy to lessen the burden of Social Distancing this trend might intensify. But there is more we can do to handle the situation as good as possible [1][2]:

  • Realize that it is less social than it is physical distancing. We can still communicate – not only via social media (which is not inherently a bad thing), but also talking from a safe distance or via the phone.

  • Accept the situation with a healthy dose of Stoicism. It is what it is – unrealistic expectations will only make it worse. As Stephen Hawking put it: “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.” [3] Inner peace and balance will bring you happiness in spite of hardship and can even prevent traumatization [8].

  • Look for the positive. For example, you might find the time to do something you have been thinking about for a long time (for me that is merely blogging, but Sir Isaac Newton created his greatest works in quarantine [4]).

  • Be kind and help those in need – those in your community and especially those poor souls in other countries that cannot even afford housing and food to isolate themselves or clean water to wash their hands. Selflessness will add to your happiness in a big way (shout-out to thepostboxproject).

  • Manage your news intake. It is important to be reasonably up to date, but there is no need to obsess about it.

  • Relaxation exercises where you focus on your breath are very calming and more effective than you might think.

In addition to that, there are obvious mental health benefits of Social Distancing, too. The world is slowing down, a rare event in our insanely fast-paced dystopia we used to call “normal”. Now people wake up from their robot-like everyday life and realize how fragile and fake it has been and how beautiful it is to be at home with their families. And if you cannot go outside, you might as well go inside, reflect and maybe even give meditation a try. [5]

Furthermore, being deprived of our social connections, we might begin to value those even more and start to hear about examples of great solidarity like thepostboxproject. And even our dysfunctional dating habits might give way to more old school courtship styles, as we are forced to take more time to actually get to know each other before we start to hang out all the time. [6]

Predicting all the consequences of Social Distancing is close to impossible, though, for there has never been anything like this before. But if your behavior is compassionate, calm and based in reason you are set to make the best of it. In times like this, we need to stick together – even if it is from a safe distance.

And now enjoy the internet’s viral response to the lockdown: memes.

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[1], as of 2020-04-02
[2], as of 2020-04-02
[3], as of 2020-04-02
[4], as of 2020-04-03
[5], as of 2020-04-02
[6], as of 2020-04-02
[7], as of 2020-04-05
[8] Dalai Lama: Ehics for the new Millenium, 1999