Here’s a meme you may have seen recently on social media:

social media meme

On the version we saw, most responses expressed a negative feeling: anxious, nervous, frazzled, depressed, pained, grouchy, lonely, despondent….

It’s hardly surprising. In these days of sheltering in place and the incessant stream of frightening news coming at us from all sides, positive feelings like hope, gratitude, and love can feel harder to come by. Disconnection from your usual social channels can make it all seem worse.

After all, human beings are social animals. We need connection with others to truly thrive – not just mentally but physically, as well. One 2016 study, for instance,

found that a higher degree of social integration was associated with lower risk of physiological dysregulation in a dose–response manner in both early and later life. Conversely, lack of social connections was associated with vastly elevated risk in specific life stages. For example, social isolation increased the risk of inflammation by the same magnitude as physical inactivity in adolescence, and the effect of social isolation on hypertension exceeded that of clinical risk factors such as diabetes in old age. Analyses of multiple dimensions of social relationships within multiple samples across the life course produced consistent and robust associations with health.

Other studies have likewise found that connectedness boosts health while isolation puts a drag on it. Consider the two studies presented by BYU psychology professor Dr. Julianne Holt-Lundstad at the 2017 meeting of the American Psychological Association:

The first [meta-analysis] involved 148 studies, representing more 300,000 participants, and found that greater social connection is associated with a 50 percent reduced risk of early death. The second study, involving 70 studies representing more than 3.4 million individuals primarily from North America but also from Europe, Asia and Australia, examined the role that social isolation, loneliness or living alone might have on mortality. Researchers found that all three had a significant and equal effect on the risk of premature death, one that was equal to or exceeded the effect of other well-accepted risk factors such as obesity.

“Social pain is as real a sensation for us as physical pain,” noted an Independent article long before COVID-19 rattled our world. “Researchers have shown that loneliness and rejection activates the same parts of the brain as physical pain.”

This is why it’s so crucial that we do what we can during these chaotic days to nurture positive emotions and stay connected even when we can’t share the same physical space with friends and colleagues

Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, and other video and conferencing apps are invaluable tools for sharing time together while remaining apart. Nextdoor and neighborhood groups on social platforms can connect you to your neighbors and facilitate mutual aid, including simple acts of kindness and unity during this uncertain time. You’ll find some ideas to get you started here and here.

Self-care matters, as well, of course – which includes turning off the bad news for a while and focusing on activities that instill you with good feeling. For as we’ve noted before, just as negative emotions can harm health, positive emotions can enhance it.

There’s another meme we’ve been seeing around lately that can be particularly helpful in this regard. We leave you with it as something to think about putting into action through the coming days, as we continue to weather the storm…

mindfulness in quarantine meme


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