In recent months, nearly every individual across the globe has been a part of a fascinating social experiment. Faced with the threat of an unknown virus, government officials worldwide implemented "stay-at-home" directives that shut down schools, offices, churches, and places of commerce. People were asked to self-quarantine in their homes to quell the potential rate of contagion for Covid-19, and the majority willingly obliged to serve the greater good. Although the virus appeared to be kept in check, a different health issue quickly arose as an unforeseen side effect; namely, the detrimental impact that a prolonged period of isolation has on our emotional and mental well-being.
Human beings are social by nature - even those who consider themselves introverts. Babies thrive developmentally when they are held and nurtured. Children run to their parents' arms for comfort when they feel scared, angry, or sad. Teenagers even do better in school when the family gathers around the dinner table each night, research shows.Conversations, hugs, and simply being near to others gives us a sense of security and well-being. Conversely, being isolated can cause increased feelings of anxiety, a distorted perception of time, and even depression.
In his book, Loneliness: HumanNature and the Need for Social Connection, neuroscientist and psychologist John T. Cacioppo explains that being disconnected from other people also can lead to adverse physiological effects, like increased levels of stress hormones and high blood pressure. At the same time, people who are socially isolated tend to eat foods that are higher in fat and sugar, which can hasten other illnesses, like diabetes and heart disease. Even connectivity tools like social media and text messaging do little to reduce the impact of isolation if an individual does not also spend time with people face-to-face, Cacioppo notes.
Although efforts to curb the impact of the novel Coronavirus have focused on keeping people physically healthy, wellness is more than just not getting sick. A healthy diet and regular exercise are fundamental to keeping your body in shape, but to improve your overall well-being, you need to look at every facet of your daily life, including your mental and emotional health. Spending leisure time with others - sharing a conversation over a cup of coffee, going to the movies, playing a board game, or taking a walk in the park - can benefit your social wellness and make life more fulfilling. What's more, those with whom you gather will profit from the exchange, as well. Like you, then can enjoy better mental and emotional health as each of you experiences a deeper sense of connection by spending time together.
As states begin to loosen restrictions on public gatherings and businesses start to open up again, make it a priority to get out of the house and see other people. Even if you maintain social distancing guidelines, talking with friends face-to-face can trigger your body to release endorphins - happy hormones that not only boost your mood but can help boost your immune system, too. As the saying goes, "Laughter is the best medicine."
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