In a recent email exchange someone told me they had a socially distant dinner with in-laws. The use of the word distant caught my attention. Distant. Not distancing like we see and hear everywhere. Not distanced. Distant. It is more than six feet. Distant feels lonely and empty.
Looking it up I found:
far away in space or time
situated at a great distance apart
great amount of separation
reserved or aloof, cold
We are hard wired for connection. At our roots we are tribal. The on going pressure to keep your distance (Can you hear the movie reel as the heroine shouts “Stay BACK” brandishing a weapon?) and do the unnatural act of covering our faces continues to take a toll. I had an acquaintance tell me CNN was running a continuous Covid death count meter that remained on screen through the entire broadcast. Someone else assured me other networks were doing this as well. The relentless news media barrage of unmitigated fear strains the body. If you are more tired lately there is a good chance it comes from being in a state of fight or flight a significant portion of the time. Victims of violence re-experience the trauma from memories of the event. Our bodies do not distinguish between the actual event and a replay. We are at some level experiencing fear/trauma when we listen to the news and when we go out in public. The wearing of masks is related to Covid which is being equated to death. The mask is a signal to the brain to fear. The stated intention of requiring masks is to protect. Our physiology however may care to differ.
There is a grocery store chain in the midwest who’s motto is “A friendly smile in every aisle” During Covid how can you tell? “Well smile with your eyes.” Really! Have you seen you don’t-smile-but-smile-with-your-eyes drivers license photo? That is NOT a friendly face.
The strain on our emotions from being distant is similar. My niece was told by her grandfather to not come see him. She adores him and was hurt. “Well there is good reason.” you might say. Reasons and justifications are intellectual constructs. They can make sense. They do nothing to influence our emotions. Our feelings are the embodiment of authenticity. They show up spontaneously. We don’t have to go looking for joy, love, hurt, or sadness. We feel what we feel when we feel it.
My mother lives 30 minutes away. Sometime this past summer I had stopped for a visit and to help out. Just as I was leaving my brother arrived. When I went to hug him he back peddled and said something to the effect of “We all must do our part.” Outside the complex I sat in my car and cried, hurt by his rejection.
Distance denies us of a crucial element needed for our humanity. Physical touch (along with facial expression) affirms our belonging. Confirms we matter and are apart of the community (tribe). When we hug, high five, or link arms our brain releases oxyocin increasing positive feel good sensations and also boosts our immune systems.* Without physical connection stress, depression and anxiety rise. We also loose some of our ability to empathize which might influence how zealous people on Facebook can be attacking those with differing points of view. Maybe. A little.
What you can be sure of is it takes a toll when we are distant. It is important to recognize the strain our emotional body is under and to take steps to support yourself. A huge help will be to turn off the news. Completely. Don’t listen, watch or read any media for a minimum of three days. A whole week is better. Allow yourself the space to clean the emotional slate. Take time to journal. Dump all your thoughts on to paper. Read books, listen to music. Do something with your hands. Make bread, cook, paint. Lean into those you live with; hug them, hold hands, talk (not about covid or politics). Seek people to have coffee or a drink with. An hour in conversation catching up on their life is a balm. If you are comfortable with physical contact, ask if they are open to shaking hands or giving a hug. Most people are craving it as much as you are.
For Your Best Possible Self
*Texas Medical Center May 15, 2020 article by Shanley Pierce