Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, a commuter or a work-from-home type, parent or not, it’s safe to say that right now, none of us is living our normal life, and that’s demanded a considerable amount of adjustment on our part. All this change got us to wondering: What if, in some way, what we’re experiencing right now might be a catalyst for long-term change for the better? Local renowned clinical psychologist Richard Levak provides some insight.
“Social contact is as needed as much as you need food, love, and water — it is a basic need,” says Levak. “When you’re deprived of it, you suffer and your brain suffers, and then you find it harder to reconnect after a period.” He references a recent study that appeared in The Lancet that backs up his claims, and summarizes the study’s findings regarding quarantine’s long-term effects. “This article shows that people who are quarantined show anxiety, depression, and used more reckless behavior like drugs and alcohol, and that it changed their brain. The brain patterns of people who are isolated for periods of time, like in a quarantine, became similar to [those of] people who’d been through food deprivation.”
That’s the bad news, but there is also good. “What is the solution? The solution is that we have to stay connected. Getting out, banging drums with your neighbors, getting on FaceTime and Zoom and talking to people, having a virtual cocktail hour or a virtual dinner, humans need that kind of connection,” he says, adding, “And — here’s the important point — when you are on FaceTime or talking to people, don’t be multitasking, don’t be looking away.” He says that humans innately crave direct eye contact for the interaction to be most meaningful, and engaging in a deeper way helps to prevent us from becoming numb and detatched. “Be open to sharing with people how you’re feeling, and if you are anxious and scared and insecure, share that with people. It will bring you closer,” he advises.
If our efforts to stay connected during self-isolation are helping us understand just how valuable our personal relationships are to our overall health, might we change our approach to living, post-pandemic?
“People will be told they can go out but still be careful, but it will take a while before people are whooping it up, and during that time, they’ll start to think, ‘What does this mean? And how am I going to change my life?’ I think it will help people realize that the world is a small place, that we’re all in this together, and that we really have to start living a little differently than just helter-skelter productivity and always busy, that life can go on and we have to be more mindful of that,” he says. “Maybe we’ll learn to be kinder and gentler.”
So, when this is over — and it will eventually all be over — hopefully we will remember how something as simple as a phone call manages to be so tremendously fulfilling, and we will continue to place great importance on the relationships that sustain us. Keep that standing call with your mom, Zoom check-in with your college roommate, digital weekly happy hour with your best friend. It’s good for your health.