The World Health Organization (WHO) and other health experts would prefer to replace the phrase “social distancing” with “physical distancing”. The term social distancing can imply a sense of disconnection from loved ones. This time of physical isolation can take a toll on mental health. WHO wants to emphasize it is critical for people to stay socially connected.
Maria Van Kerkhove, an infectious diseases epidemiologist with the WHO, explained the organization’s stance, “We’ve been saying ‘physical distancing’ because it’s important to remain physically separate but socially connected. People should be looking after their mental health and that of their loved ones during the pandemic. “There is no lockdown on laughter,” said Van Kerkhove. “There’s no lockdown on talking to your family and finding ways to connect.”
Consensual physical contact and in-person interactions release chemicals in the brain and body, including endorphins, serotonin, and oxytocin, that can boost happiness and reduce pain and stress. But a hug or a hand around a shoulder that would otherwise offer comfort during a time of uncertainty and fear is now the very thing that could endanger people’s physical health.
It is important to try to replicate in-person gatherings and interactions with technologies such as FaceTime, Skype and Zoom. When technology is not accessible, pick up the phone and talk or text, write a letter and send a smile. Make a social connection while safely physically distancing, and boost happiness all around.