Why is social distancing so challenging for our wellbeing?

There are many stressors connected to the corona virus outbreak, but one of the most difficult is that we have to avoid meeting people face-to-face. We human beings are social creatures born with need for social connection (even Finnish people 😊…). During COVID-19 pandemic, we have tried to replace face-to-face meetings with video and other remote connections. But of course, it is not the same, because there are so many little things that are missing when we are not meeting in person. However, research shows that having some sort of social interaction, even with people we don't know, usually makes us feel better.

In this text, I am going to wonder first about the factors affecting on how we survive with social distancing. Then I will tell a little about the effects of quarantine and loneliness. And in the last chapter, I will go through some tips that could help you to cope with social distancing. Also, there are some questions for you that could help you to reflect your experiences.

Same global crises - Different situations, personalities and stress coping skills

Social distancing and corona virus pandemic have had an impact in our lives in many different ways. Our situations are very different depending on if we live alone or with someone like flat mate, partner or family members. For the ones living alone, there might have been too much time just with your own thoughts, and the feeling of loneliness may have become common guest. On the other hand, the ones having many family members or flat mates in the same apartment, may be craving for some time alone. Some of us may belong to a risk group or have close relatives who do, and then getting sick naturally feels a bigger threat than otherwise. So even though we are facing the same crises, we may have very different kind of situations in our lives.

Pandemic and accompanying restrictive measures have also caused a variety of reactions in people. There isn’t - yet - much research of what makes some people cope with social distancing better than others. You could still guess, that in addition to different kind of situations, there are many factors related to our personality and ways of coping with stress, that have influence. We differ in the need for social connection: Some people get energy from meeting people, whereas others may need a lot of time alone to recover after social events. Also our capability to adjust and adapt to new situations may affect on how burdening the corona virus pandemic has been for us. It is easier for some of us to cope with uncertainty than for others. For the most people, uncertainty is a stress factor but it may cause different amount of stress depending on how fast we adapt to something new.

We also use different kind of ways to cope with stress. Some of us use social coping strategies, for example talking about your worries to a friend. While we are studying or working at home, there is a risk that we don’t have so much casual meetings with our study mates as before, and it may have a consequence of not getting as much social support with study related stress as usually. For others, sports, writing, mindfulness or some other ways work better with relieving stress. Corona virus pandemic and social distancing have made it more difficult to use social coping strategies to relieve stress, while it hasn’t really affected others that much. It is important to know what kind of strategies usually help you with stress and take it into account whether social distancing is affecting your ways to cope with stress or not. However, the situation during the spring was very extreme, and it is possible that your reactions surprised even yourself.

How has social distancing affected your life? Do you recognize personality traits that make social distancing easy or hard for you? What kind of ways help you to cope with stress?


Quarantine and loneliness

For the most of us, the amount of different people we meet in our every day life has decreased a lot during pandemic. Many students live alone and there might have been a long period of not meeting people, because families and supportive network may live in different cities or countries. Thus, the risk of feeling lonely might have been a high for many students.

We can thank our evolution and ancient history of the fact that avoiding social meetings is so hard for us. Our brain still interprets loneliness as a threat, as for our ancestors in savannah, it’s was a great risk to be left alone. Humans needed others to hunt together and without hunting company, there was a risk to be left without food. That is why loneliness is still causing a strong reaction in us. There are some studies about effect of the quarantine, and they indicate that being in quarantine is challenging our wellbeing. There has been even signs of anxiety, confusion and anger. If you can choose being in quarantine for the sake of others, it can be easier to deal with than if you are in lockdown. 

Loneliness can be described as unmet need for belongliness. Loneliness is not the same as spending time alone or having just one good friend. Loneliness is a subjective experience that the amount or quality of your social relationships are not what you desire. Loneliness is related to different kind of negative feelings, for example anxiety, depression or frustration. Loneliness affects our thoughts and how we see ourselves and others. We may start to see ourselves as more negative way and less worthy - and that's one mechanism of why loneliness many times sustains itself. Psychiatrist Kristian Wahlbeck says that because it is so hard for human mind to be left out from social interaction, we use prison sentences for criminals. So, loneliness is definitely hard. However, regardless your loneliness is caused but corona virus pandemic and social distancing or if it is something you have struggled for a longer time, it is always possible to do something about it.

Do you feel yourself lonely often? Have you noticed that it has changed how you think of yourself or others? On a typical day: what things make your loneliness stronger? What things or actions help to reduce loneliness?

What helps to cope with social distancing?

Social distancing is not ideal situation for our wellbeing. It decreases the amount of social interaction (at least face-to-face interaction) which usually supports our wellbeing. That is why we need to pay extra attention to how we are coping nowadays.

Research about quarantine suggest that it helps to remind yourself that you are avoiding face-to-face meetings to help others. Remembering that we are in this together and everybody's effort is needed to get pandemic under control may make us feel better. We are now taking care of others by restricting the face-to-face meetings. It can also be useful to make a plan beforehand how to ensure that you get all the supplies needed if you have to stay in quarantine.

It is also a good idea to try to invent creative ways to keep in touch and replace the face-to-face meetings with virtual ones. Could you do yoga with your friend virtually or drink a cup of tea online? Now when the most studies are organized online, it is still a good idea to participate in online lectures and calculation practices or organize common study sessions online. There are also many online events organized by guilds and different student organizations, where you can meet people. Or could you be the one who volunteers in a student organization? It is a good way to get to know other students and helping others is a great way to add the sense of meaning in life. Especially if you have just started your studies it is a good idea to take part in many events, both virtual and live ones, to get to know new study mates.

What comes to loneliness, it is good to remember that loneliness is something that the most of the people encounter at some point of their lives and that in these circumstances, the risk is increased. You are not the only one feeling yourself lonely these days. Recognizing and noticing your feelings and thoughts related to loneliness is usually better than trying to push them away. Verbalizing your emotions or writing them down usually makes you feel better. If you don’t feel like talking about your feelings to anyone you know, you can contact for example study psychologist or Aalto chaplains.

Loneliness can sometimes make us to feel that we are not in control of our own lives. There is a lot of uncertainty in the situation at the moment and things we can’t affect. Still making it visible that there are still many things we can choose, may help use feel better. Building routines and taking the leadership in our own life can make us feel better. Feeling productive and doing something we enjoy or that feels meaningful during the free time helps us to get the feeling of control again.

As loneliness is many times connected to the lowering of self-esteem and negative self-image, it is a good idea to think of how could I do something good for myself. We can ourselves start to treat us as a good friend and try to remind ourselves how it feels to be appreciated. For example, taking a warm bath or cooking a nice dinner for ourselves can make us feel better. If possible, it is also a good idea to contact some person who is close to us and ask him/her to remind ourselves why we are special.

It is also good to pay attention how you act in social situations, also online. People usually appreciate when we are interested in them. You can for example think of some good questions in advance so that it feels easier to take part in to the conversation. ‘How are you?’ is many times a good way to start a conversation. Asking open questions, in which the other can’t answer just ‘yes’ or ‘no’ make the conversation flowing more easily.

Senast redigerad: fredag, 2 juli 2021, 11:18