These have been challenging times. The pandemic (COVID-19) has become a major, lifetime event that has impacted all of us in many ways.
COVID-19 has had many ramifications. First, we have the medical and health concern. We all want to stay healthy, ourselves and our family. So much information to digest, news constantly bombarding us with deaths, rates of those affected, hospitalizations, long-term effects. This weighs heavily. With all this, we have cocooned. Socialization has halted or become very limited, we stay home, we hardly participate in social events, etc.
The pandemic has also created a huge political divide. Regardless of who is right or wrong. The decisions related to wear mask, to get vaccinated, etc. have become highly politicized and controversial. This has created divisions or distancing between family members, friends, coworkers.
Working at home and the whole video conferencing options have also added to a more limited interaction with others. We “see” others, and we talk to others but in a remote basis, not in-person. Meeting in-person, especially for socialization, family and friends’ events, work meetings, etc. provides a different feel. It’s a different experience.
Even wearing masks (putting aside any personal or private opinions), has an impact on the ability to read or share facial expressions that are an integral part of our social interactions. We read others and we express ourselves with words, intonations, body language, arm and hand movements, and, yes, with facial expressions!
Altogether, the impact of the pandemic has created distancing from others, isolation. This has an effect. We are social beings, we thrive on interactions with others, and socialization is part of our well-being and serves as a coping mechanism. The warmth, support, interaction with others (family, friends, coworkers, etc.) feeds our mental balance and helps us operate better emotionally and mentally.
Socialization has many benefits. An article on Psychology Today by Angela Troyer, Ph.D. states that, according to research, having an active social life brings several benefits. First, those that have more social support tend to live longer vs. those remain more isolated. Also, being socially engaged with other is associated with a stronger immune system. In turn, having a stronger immune system helps fight different diseases (e.g., flu, cold, cancer) and, yes, COVID-19! Additionally, as we interact with others our mood improves. Our well-being is boosted through socialization, and it also reduces any sense of depression. Finally, there is increasing evidence that, in the long run, it appears that socialization reduces the risk of dementia.
So, what to do about this?
First, we can be safe and creative by finding ways to interact and socialize in ways that we feel comfortable. For example, having an event at the park, in our backyard, walking together in a park. For others, an extra caution of ensuring negative testing and/or vaccination, wearing mask, etc. The important step is, within what is reasonable and acceptable to each of us, to reach out and interact.
Also, recognizing any signs of being affected (e.g., stress, anxiety, irritability, depression, sadness) is important. Once we identify any concern or area that seems affected, we can address it by taking better care of ourselves such as exercising, eating healthy, practicing meditation or gratitude, journaling, among others.
Importantly, also acknowledge when seeking help from a qualified professional can play a role in intercepting and resolving any negative pattern or symptom. These are difficult times and having a proactive role in taking care of us is paramount.