Humans are social creatures, and in many ways navigating our way through the pandemic goes against so many of our innate needs. Even if you’re the type of person who thinks that you’re fine by yourself and have no need for other people, chances are that the pandemic has been an eye-opening experience. And while studies have shown that isolation is key to minimizing the spread of the virus, there are severe ramifications of isolation, such as an increase in anger, confusion, and post-traumatic stress symptoms.
Human Connection Is Important
In his book Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World, which was coincidentally released right in the middle of the pandemic, Vivek H. Murthy, MD, the former surgeon general, says that research has confirmed that our instinctive human drive to connect with others is one of our most important survival instincts. He says, “It’s in our relationships that we find the emotional sustenance and power we need in order to survive” (p. 51). Creating meaningful connections also increases our self-esteem and helps promote a sense of self-worth.
The majority of us are challenged by trying to maintain connections during the pandemic, but those of us who are in high-risk groups are challenged even more. Many people who had been resistant to the opportunity to connect digitally because they didn’t think it was the same as face-to-face contact are finally surrendering, realizing that we’re in a new phase of the “new norm.” Even intermittent video chats with family members, friends, and colleagues can help provide the personal sustenance we need. It’s also a reminder that we might be strong alone, but we’re even stronger together. Murthy further explains that when removed from our connections, like so many of us have been for most of 2020, psychic and psychological pain can occur. He suggests that isolating also costs us in terms of gaining the perspective and experiences that are necessary for survival.
The Importance of Community
Murphy stresses the importance of community and the collective, which includes our interpersonal relationships, community organizations, neighborhoods, and social groups, which all allow for personal expression. He says, and I agree, that giving to our community not only strengthens it but also enriches our own lives and instills a sense of personal value.
Figuring out how to accomplish this during a pandemic calls for creative measures. In many ways, the pandemic has brought us all together as a universe, as it affects all cultures and groups. It can be considered a unifying factor. However, it’s unfortunate that it has also tied into an election year that tends to divide us as a collective.
Having advanced technology available to us is indeed a mixed blessing. Unlike what was available during the flu pandemic of 1918, such advances are allowing us to connect with those we would not ordinarily be able to connect with. However, on the other side of the equation, it can further exacerbate a sense of isolation and loneliness because it can amplify certain feelings. It can also enhance feelings of isolation and loneliness for those living under the same roof when they see their housemates communicating digitally with others rather than connecting personally with those living in the same dwelling. It gets down to establishing an appropriate balance.
Dealing with Isolation
As Robert, L. Leahy, Ph.D., says in a Psychology Today article, “7 Tips for Handling Isolation During the Pandemic,” isolation is particularly difficult for those who have a history of depression and anxiety. In fact, it can even exacerbate their symptoms. Under normal circumstances, those who are depressed tend to self-isolate anyway; thus, a pandemic is another excuse to do so. They may have increased feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. In addition, long-term isolation can lead to new diagnoses of depression.
There’s no doubt that we’re all simultaneously experiencing a shift in how we live our lives. Isolation has become a new challenge while we still maintain a level of safe interaction. “Those for whom isolation is a new challenge should be encouraged to view opportunities to change the way they live their lives” (Diamond, 2019, p. 1192). Opportunities lead to transformation and change that in many cases can be for the better.
As Murphy says, building bridges for connection may never be more important than it is right now. And as The Beatles sang back in the 1960s, let’s “come together right now.”
Banschick, M, G. Banschick (2020). The Jerusaleum Report. May 4. 16.Leahy, R. L. (2020).
Murthy, V. H. (2020). Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World. New York, NY: Harper Wave.
“7 Tips for Handling Isolation During the Pandemic.” Psychology Today. March 27.
Previously Published on Psychology Today