How does social distancing affect our mental health and which technologies may keep us sane in this situation?
Social Distancing is one of the big topics these days. You have to stay at least 1.5 meters away from others, don't gather in groups, and stay out of crowded places as much as possible. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention practicing social distancing is one of the best ways to slow down the spread of a virus. Although this protects us and others from infections it can get hard sometimes. Spouses have to see each other most of the time and people who live alone do not have the opportunity to get physical contact with friends or family, which may lead to loneliness and depression.
The power of a hug
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Why is close social contact so important for us? Humans are social beings and so we need interactions with others. Close human contact has an impact on our immune system, helps to decrease stress, and is important for our health. When you hug somebody, for instance, millions of activated sensors under the skin send electric impulses to your brain. A multitude of hormones and neurotransmitter are spilled, which cause different effects on your whole body. Your heartbeat is more relaxed, the blood pressure falls, your breath slows down and emotions of anxiety and hormones that cause a feeling of stress decrease. Overall, the release of the hormone oxytocin strengthens the immune system and is so to say the biochemical glue between human relationships.
Oxytocin: The reason we fall in love
What does social distancing to our mental health?
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Psychologists in the whole world are observing the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on our minds and our interpersonal behavior. The Pandemic brought a lot of changes to our life like job loss, financial instability, or social distancing. A poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that 45 percent of Americans say that worry and stress related to the pandemic are hurting their mental health. On the other hand, a study of the University of Washington points that most of the participants seem to be coping with the current situation. Over some time, the feeling of anxiety has leveled off because people thought about the virus less each day. The free time was used to try new hobbies, go for a walk in nature or work out more.
But with no doubt this is not generally speaking. Some people suffer extremely from social distancing and isolation. People with pre-existing mental health conditions for instance, need social contact to deal with anxiety and sadness. To manage these difficult challenges the American Psychological Association recommends: "Planning ahead by considering how you might spend your time, who you can contact for psychosocial support and how you can address any physical or mental health needs you or your family may have."
Tech helps to keep the distance
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The Humankind has overcome a lot of crises in the past and so we will with the COVID-19 pandemic. Especially our high level of technology makes life in a crisis more bearable than ever before. We can use video calls to see and talk to our friends. We can browse on social media to see how others experience the current situation. And we can entertain ourselves by watching Netflix or playing videogames. Besides that, there are also technologies which help us to make social distancing easier.
In Belgium dockworkers are wearing high-tech bracelets, which measures the distance between each worker. The bracelets, designed for highly industrial environments, were invented by the Belgian Startup Rombit. If the workers are getting to close, the bracelet makes warning sounds.
Another great solution comes from the company "Boston Dynamics", famous for its advanced robots. The four-legged Robot "Spot" is used by the Bringham and Women's Hospital in Massachusetts to treat coronavirus patients. An IPad is mounted on to the robot, so nurses can check the symptoms of a patient from a safe distance.
The dog-like robot is also in Singapore in use for trial, even if it might seem a bit strange. Patrolling the grounds of Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, the robot plays recorded messages to remind everyone to keep 1.5 meters apart.
I know that social distancing can be difficult but please use the technology that we have to make something positive out of this situation. Take this opportunity and spread love instead of the virus and contact your old friends from school, your relatives that you have not spoken to in a long time, or just send a friendly message to your colleagues. No one knows exactly when an antidote will appear on the market to stop COVID-19. As long as this is the case social distancing protects us and our family and friends from getting infected. Together apart, we will keep up!