Apr 8, 2020
Trinity University professor Erin Sumner doesn’t like the term “social distancing.” As a scholar of interpersonal communication, she knows that for us to thrive during this time of physical separation, we can’t stop being social animals.
“Let’s call it ‘physical distancing,’ which is a better description for what we should be doing,” Sumner said. “Socially, we should be engaging even better than before. That’s what we need to do more of because of the physical rifts between us right now.”
The more alternate ways we find to interact during our time hunkered down, the better our state of minds, she added. Whether it’s playing a game with friends over video chat or texting to check in with a grandparent or elderly neighbor, we should keep the lines of communication open.
Here are three tips Sumner has for strengthening our social interactions during the weeks we’re spending physically separated.
Be physically distant, not socially distant. The more we can think of quarantine as a physical separation not a social one, the better off we’ll be. If you work from home, set up times to connect with your coworkers on the phone so we know there’s a real human being on the other side of those emails. If you have a weekly book club or drinking night with friends, keep it going via video chat. Every little bit of interaction helps.
Use human connections to lower stress. There’s plenty to feel anxious about right now, from our health to our finances to our feelings of isolation. Research shows that the more affection and human connection we feel, the more buffered we become from stress. If you’re feeling frazzled, jump on the phone and have a deep and meaningful conversation. You’re not just helping yourself. Chances are the person on the other end also needs to hear your voice.
Focus on technologies that improve social connections. Interactions via video chat and text messaging can improve our interactions, while research shows that some types of social media actually make us feel more cut off from each other. Look for technology-aided interactions that have real meaning and strengthen our bonds rather than dividing us. Also, don’t forget to introduce older friends and relatives to new technologies that help them stay in touch through this difficult time.