It’s well known that human contact is beneficial to our health. The infamous Harry Harlow study on monkeys back in the 1950s, found that baby monkeys removed from their mothers suffered severe behavioral problems. Prisoners in solitary confinement have described their experience with the lack of human contact as torture.
Studies have shown human contact even improves our physical well-being. Tiffany Field, founder and director of the University of Miami’s Touch Research Institute, tells CNN that touch helps the immune system fight infections.
The coronavirus outbreak has pretty much put social contact on hold, disrupting our ability to be around other people. In Italy, 125,000 people have been fined for breaking rules on restriction of movement. According to Italian media, many of these violations were made by people trying to sneak away and meet other people, CNN says.
Theresa DiDonato, Ph.D. explained in Psychology Today that people have a fundamental need for human connection.
“This idea is strongly rooted in our evolutionary past: Social living enhances the likelihood for survival from infancy through old age, making social living a default orientation,” she says.
“Under strong recommendations to avoid getting together with other people, we are still lining up to enter bars and clubs, going to beaches, restaurants and mingling in the streets,” DiDonato said. “Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is telling us to ‘hunker down.’ Yet in order make this work, we need to overcome a primary drive. We need to ignore our normal pervasive need to be among other people.”
No one is denying that despite the fact that human contact is so desirable to our mental and social health, during this pandemic, close contact is the biggest threat to our physical well-being. The benefits of social distancing far outweigh the risk of socializing, says CNN.
Field says that self-isolation can offer opportunities to get in touch, both figuratively and physically, with family members. She suggests giving your loved ones and yourself massages and back rubs.
“We know that moving the skin is critical for health reasons. Moving the skin puts the body into a more relaxed state. The vagal activity in the brain increases, and that slows the heart rate and lowers stress hormones, and that, in the long run can even kill bacterial, viral and cancer cells,” she told CNN.
She also recommends keeping in touch with the elderly who may be isolated in nursing homes and feeling lonely.
“This period of social distancing is likely most difficult for older adults that lack a partner and a social support network that looks after them,” she said. ‘If people have someone who gives them a call once in a while and can bring them groceries and other necessities if necessary, that solves already some of the problems,” she said. “Helping others is one of the best ways to feel connected to other people.”
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