We are social beings, neurologically hardwired for connection. In an unprecedented time when we are vulnerable to feelings of fear and anxiety, we have been asked to “socially distance” ourselves from others. However, word choice matters. Social distancing does not mean social isolation. In fact, it is now, more than ever, that we need to feel socially connected.


Research predating the COVID19 pandemic attributes social connectedness to overall health and longevity. People who feel connected to others are much less at risk for anxiety and depression. Studies have indicated that these people have higher self-esteem and are more empathetic to and trusting of others. Despite the clear link between social connectivity and wellbeing, the sense of connection has recently been declining among the US population. In 1985, the average number of confidants an American had was three. In 2004, this number dropped to just one, and 25 percent of Americans reported having none. These findings likely explain the increase in loneliness and isolation that have led to increased psychological counseling and mental illness. 


In a society that so desperately needs social connection, we have continued to move further and further away from it. We have become busier, our free time consumed with activities that are done independently. Our time is filled by streaming shows online and communicating through social media apps, while face-to-face interaction declines. Ironically, the technology that has been one of the prime reasons for our increased isolation is now the only source of connection to people outside our homes.


Schools, offices, restaurants, libraries, theaters, gyms, and stores—all places where we could previously interact and socialize with others—are being temporarily closed. For most of us, confined to our homes, now is as good a time as ever to start using our technology in “socially healthy ways.” FaceTime, Zoom, Google Hangouts, and many other video-chatting sites have been our saving grace the past few weeks. Whether it be calling your friends for a ‘virtual’ happy hour, or your family for a ‘virtual’ game night—little interactions go a long way. 


During times of uncertainty, our minds try desperately to make sense of the situation. But  worrying about the past and planning for an unknown future can just heighten feelings of frustration and stress. My mother, a psychologist, reminds my family to focus on the “what-is” rather than the “what-ifs.” Of course, my natural instinct was to ignore the advice and proceed to schedule my days down to the minute. But I realized quickly that in all my attempts to remain productive, I was in fact becoming more and more unproductive. Facing a definite “analysis paralysis,” I realized I was entirely focused on the “what-ifs.” The secret is: we are all attempting to navigate this new territory together. This can actually be the perfect way to connect with others, through shared human experience. 


Countless individuals have taken action to give back and spread kindness during this time. On Sunday night, iHeart Radio hosted a “Living Room Concert” with performances by various artists such as Sam Smith, Camilla Cabello and Shawn Mendes, and Billie Eilish. Jimmy Fallon has been broadcasting  “The Tonight Show” from his house, with frequent guest appearances from his two young daughters. Disney Plus has released Frozen 2 three months early to give people some entertainment while stuck at home. WestJet airlines threw four students a graduation celebration on their flight home from school. An entire neighborhood sang “Happy Birthday” from their balconies to celebrate a woman’s 80th birthday. The owner of a local pizza parlor in New Jersey took out a personal loan to ensure that all of his employees would be able to continue getting paid. Adobe Creative Cloud is offering free access for students, and Headspace is offering a collection of free meditations called “Weathering the Storm.” No matter how small, it is so important to continue to spread kindness and compassion to counteract some of the feelings of uncertainty. 


Each of us reacts to stress differently, and that is perfectly okay. Recognizing your personal signs and taking steps to address these feelings is extremely important. Identify some of your favorite self-care activities and put them into practice each day; remember that you deserve to take time for yourself. If you notice someone around you struggling, helping them is an opportunity to build connection. According to the CDC, helping others cope with stress actually makes your community stronger.


We are all feeling a whirlwind of emotions, including sadness.  We have all lost something because of COVID19. Whether that was graduating on your college campus, getting your dream summer internship, going on your study abroad trip, or playing in your sports season—you deserve to feel upset, to grieve. But I also encourage you to celebrate the memories you have created so far. As Wolverines, we have much to remember: https://www.michigandaily.com/section/multimedia/photo-essay-ode-michigan-wolverine.


We need only physical distance to keep us safe. Let us practice only physical distancing and focus on creating more social connection! 


Now more than ever: Be Social. Stay Social. Post written by #UMSocial Intern Keara Kotten