OPINION: Social interaction important despite need for physical distancing


Stefan Rousseau/PA via AP

People sit on the grass in Greenwich Park, London as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, Sunday April 26, 2020. The highly contagious COVID-19 coronavirus has impacted on nations around the globe, many imposing self isolation and exercising social distancing when people move from their homes.

As the need for social distancing seems set to continue into the coming summer months, the desperation for human interaction begins to increase. Due to the need of social interaction, the loneliness and yearning of socialization continues to impact the lives of the public. 

My life, to say the least, has become robotic. I wake up early for my classes, attend my lectures, maybe I’ll do an assignment, binge watch TV shows on Netflix and snack throughout the day, spend obscene amounts of time on social media, go to sleep, wake up and the cycle starts all over again. The need for human interaction, for me, has been brutal. 

I long to be in an environment with my friends and my peers just so I can feel free and normal again. I yearn to go outside and work, walk through the streets of Chicago, eat at restaurants and spend hours in the library, but the harsh reality is that no matter how strong our urges may be, it’s still not safe to engage with others in close proximity.

There is no doubt that humans are social creatures and we crave an environment where we can be social and communicate with others. To many, the latest developments in the lengthening of social distancing is bringing about great fear and anxiety due to this fear of the unknown. However, it’s imperative that we realize that this is the best way for us to flatten the curve and return to our normal lives. 

“I think people are built to interact,” said Zainab Jafri, a mother of two in Chicago. “Growth takes place when we meet with others and exchange ideas. However, people that are still ‘hanging’ out are doing a huge disservice to all the frontline heroes out there… It’s complete and utter disrespect. This is a trying time for all humans but negligence shouldn’t be tolerated when it means someone is risking their [life].” 

According to the CDC, the best way to stop the spread of the virus is to avoid close contact with any individual that may be sick; to stay home as much as possible and to put a six-foot distance between you and other people at all times. According to the CDC and the WHO, there has been no indication given that it’s still safe to go to people’s houses and attend small gatherings of people. 

“I genuinely do think that this is something that is all so new and I understand that while it may be a very serious and severe situation, there are still people who don’t understand the full magnitude of this whole thing,” said Hamid Reign, a junior at DePaul. 

In recent weeks, we have seen certain celebrities called out by people and the media for visiting their friends and family when the stay-at-home order was in place. 

Earlier this month, young entrepreneur and billionaire Kylie Jenner was seen making her way toward her friend Anastasia Karanikolau’s house. Prior to her visit, she tweeted on March 17 to remind millions of people to take social distancing seriously in order to flatten the curve. Jenner was quickly called out for her actions that went against the CDC and the WHO’s recommendations.  

“First, I advocate abiding by the suggestions of the CDC and the WHO; that doesn’t of course negate a person’s need for social interaction,” said Russell Fulmer, a licensed professional counselor and clinical associate professor at Northwestern University. “A need is different from a want and those needs can persist and [because of that] isolation and loneliness can ensue.” 

However, there is a way to safely fulfill that want of wanting to spend time with friends and family and it can be done virtually.

Video conferencing application and Zoom founder Eric Yuan recently added approximately $20 billion to his net worth as Zoom quickly accelerated to become one of the most widely used virtual platforms for long distance communication, lectures and organizational meetings. Zoom, FaceTime and Skype calls have been widely popular as friends and family get together to enjoy meals, celebrate various holidays and even organize wedding functions so all family members and friends can attend. 

Even though you’re not getting that physical interaction where it’s much easier to read facial expressions, gestures and social cues, it still brings about that hint of normalcy and communication with others that are not in your living spaces. 

There’s no doubt that it’s difficult, that we can’t see our friends, peers, family members; not to mention all of the plans people had for the upcoming summer months that are now at a halt. Trying to figure out ways on how to add new habits into your daily life so you don’t repeat that repetitive cycle is tiresome, stressful and we begin to see it take a powerful toll on the mental health of people all around the world. 

We hear stories from our friends or loved ones who are living alone who say that they constantly have heightened feelings of anxiety, fear and distress. The buildup of these emotions, the fear of the unknown and overthinking situations results in a powerful negative impact on the mind and body.

“We need to just acknowledge the hard truth that these are difficult times,” Fulmer said. “The solutions are not going to be perfect, either. And rather than say ‘it shouldn’t be’ or ‘it should,’ we just need to set with that hard truth and that hard reality and do the best we can, all things considered.” 

After acknowledging the reality and severity of our situation, it’s important for us to establish small habits that can provide some sort of comfort to our mental health. I stopped using the term “isolation” when referring to social distancing. I found that whenever the term “isolation” would come up, my anxiety would heighten, I would begin to feel more restless, frightened and stressed. 

You’re not in total isolation from the world. You can still go on walks, bask in the sunlight and shop at grocery stores if you still follow the simple guidelines. 

If you are someone that lives alone and feels alone, I want you to know that you are never alone. These bonds that students are creating with each other during these trying times are extraordinary. It is truly amazing to see how young adults are rising up to ensure the welfare of their close friends and families by checking in on them on a daily basis despite their hectic schedules with work and assignments. 

Communities and society as a whole are providing a nest of comfort and nurture to all those that are alone during this time, so let us make use of the gift of time that we have to create everlasting friendships and positive impacts in the world.