Not Social Distancing

State by state, more and more of us in America are getting orders from our governors to stay at home, shelter-in-place and practice “social distancing” in the hopes of slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus.

I have a friend who pointed out that we really should call what we’re doing “physical distancing” rather than social distancing. We can still be social and we still need to be social. In a way, we are fortunate that this is happening in 2020, there are so many ways now to be social without being physically close to each other. These stay-at-home orders are pushing people to think of creative ways to connect with each other through technology. Staying socially connected is so important for our mental health as we all go through this.

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All of our “normal” social outlets from sporting events to churches are being being canceled throughout the country. Schools are closed and workers are being asked to telecommute. Even parks and wildlife areas are closing now, after it became clear that people were gathering in those places even after state officials urged everyone to practice social distancing. People throughout the country are being asked to stay home and now there are very few places to actually go to.

Humans are a community species. Even the most introverted person needs the tribe on some level. Having a sense of community and connection is key to our mental health as humans. Total isolation is a punishment we reserve for the worst of bad actors.

It’s been pretty amazing to see the creative ways that people are using to connect: my daughter has switched to speech therapy sessions via telehealth, a friend had a 40 person trivia night on Zoom, I’m face-timing more with my family back in the Midwest and I even had a few friends over to my “rustic” island in Animal Crossing the other night. It is hard to be so far from our friends and extended loved ones, but at least we can still be social in other ways.

The other day, I asked my team at work to look for the silver lining in all of this. Many of them responded that they are spending more time with their family at home and connecting with relatives and friends far away through messages and video calls. We are keeping our physical distance but social bonds are stronger than space and time. Even as we practice “social distancing,” we can stay mentally and emotionally close and connected.

And when this is all over and behind us, may we never again take for granted the time we get to spend in the company of others.

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