The global pandemic of coronavirus (COVID-19) is outside the normal range of how people psychologically know how to cope with stressors. We are navigating daily living in uncertain times. Combined with the recent Stay-At-Home orders in many states, this added a whole new layer of stress to people’s lives. Understandably, the isolation and lack of physical contact for people impacts their overall mental health. People may feel overwhelmed, fatigued, or even experience a spectrum of mood instabilities by taking away physical contact, the very thing that makes us human and helps us heal in a crisis.
People may also be experiencing a range of cognitive and physical symptoms such as changes in appetite, sleep, focus, and gastrointestinal issues, headaches (particularly with much time on computer screens), low energy, worry, and forgetfulness. The challenge is how we are supposed to maintain our mental and physical well-being during a pandemic that requires physical distancing?
Scientifically, we are well aware that isolation and loneliness can raise stress levels, and physical touch is a powerful stress-reducer. A hug can not only reduce interpersonal conflict, but it can also strengthen our immune response and mental health by flooding our bodies with oxytocin, a “bonding hormone” that makes us feel secure and reduces stress. Additionally, touch can be calming for someone in distress since it offers support and empathy.
For those who are isolated and unable to have physical contact, we know that expressing feelings of affection and love can also lower stress levels. Individuals who regularly express love do not produce as much stress hormone, and their blood pressure is lower during moments of stress. Highly affectionate people have an easier time with stress than do their less affectionate counterparts. Additionally, when affection and love are expressed, it can lower the receiver’s stress hormones and strengthen their immune system, which is something we could all use right now. Interestingly, a recent study published in Psychophysiology reported of the 100 participants who were in happy relationships just thinking about their partners lowered their blood pressure during stressful times.
Other ways people are improving their mental and physical well-being and decreasing stressors are through their social connections in their neighborhoods. Around the country, people are reporting a return to a simpler time by offering a wave or small talk with their neighbors on their daily walks, communing from their lawns, front porches, or rooftops, and contributing to help those most at risk with food and supplies. It appears there is a silver lining of social distancing, having the time to be a good neighbor.
Additionally, people are finding creative ways to use Zoom, Tik-Tok,Facetime, and other technology platforms to connect by creating virtual happy hours, family sessions, cocktail hours, lunch breaks, and school study breaks to share jokes, music, stories, and simply talk about anything other than coronavirus.
It is important to note that staying socially connected is especially important for friends and family who live alone without children, partners, or roommates since they are deprived not only of physical contact but of all in-person social contact right now. It crucial during this time of uncertainty that we make sure we stay socially connected to increase not only our mental and physical wellness but also to help support our neighbors, communities, and loved ones’ wellness, too. We will get through this challenging time together, but I genuinely hope when this is behind us and humanity begins to heal, none of us will ever take for granted the simple and pure healing power of a hug again.
- Cohut, M. (September 21, 2018). Hugs and Kisses: The Health Impact of Affective Touch. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323143#Why-touch-is-so-important
- Suval, L (July 8, 2018). The Surprising Psychological Value of Human Touch. PsychCentral. https://psychcentral.com/blog/the-surprising-psychological-value-of-human-touch/
- Floyd, K. (February 8, 2013) Study: Expressing Love Can Improve Your Health. Arizona State University. https://research.asu.edu/expressing-love-can-improve-your-health
- Cherry, R. (March 28, 2019) Apparently, Just Thinking About Someone You Love Can Help You Deal with Stressful Situations. The American Institute of Stress. https://www.stress.org/apparently-just-thinking-about-someone-you-love-can-help-you-deal-with-stressful-situations