Imagine looking into a baby’s eyes. You smile, the baby smiles. You laugh, the baby laughs. But what if you just look expressionless with a blank stare? Do you know what the baby does? The baby cries from a feeling of detachment and lack of emotional understanding.

There are times when we find ourselves in isolation. For those of us who are extroverts, this may be extremely difficult. For those of us who are introverts, we may find isolation to be not that different than usual. Yet all of us benefit from healthy human connection. During times of isolation, this may not be so easy to accomplish.

What are the psychological consequences of social distancing?

The impact of social distancing can be quite devastating. We are inherently social beings. It is disheartening to be cut off from interacting with others for extended periods of time. Social distancing can cause feelings of detachment, alienation, loneliness, and depression. We hear of increases in alcoholism, child abuse, domestic violence, and suicide. Stressors that are usually handled, become intensified.

What are the psychological consequences of wearing masks?

We know the urgency in support of wearing masks. We hear it on the news. We see it posted on doors to businesses. However, we depend on facial expressions to know and appreciate each other.

Kathleen Pike, PhD is a Professor of Psychology and Director of the Global Mental Health WHO Collaborating Centre at Columbia University. In her April 2020 article Why a Mask is Not Just a Mask, she explained non-verbal communication, especially facial expressions, accounts for most of what we understand during our social interactions. Masks end up covering emotional cues. This result is very difficult for children and especially so for people with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Although we do not all speak the same language, universally there are seven core feelings that everyone recognizes: anger, fear, disgust, happiness, sadness, surprise, and contempt. According to psychologist Paul Ekman’s cultural research, “…we can largely recognize how people around the world are feeling by simply reading their faces.” Despite responding to health risks, masks create feelings of confusion and anxiety.

How can we connect with others during periods of isolation?

Positive social connection is so important for psychological well-being. There are a variety of ways to connect with others during periods of isolation. Technology can be a quite valuable avenue whether by phone, text, email or teleconferencing, etc. We can connect the “old-fashioned” way and write a letter. We can invite someone to visit or reach out safely to someone else who is alone, disabled or elderly. Finally, we can venture outdoors, delight in nature, and facilitate casual meetings.

How can we connect with ourselves?

It has occurred to me that when we are unable to connect with others, we can tap into our creativity. If we utilize all our five senses, we may be able to grow in self-discovery, reveal fresh perspectives, expand our horizons.
How can we accomplish this?

1. Taste:
Try new foods. Make new recipes

2. Sight:
Look around. Are there changes you’d like to make? Photo albums to review? Look in the mirror-did you still groom for the day?

3. Sound:
Listen to music, play an instrument, sounds of nature.

4. Smell:
Bake bread, muffins, brownies, cookies, applesauce with cinnamon. Smell cologne or flowers.

5. Touch:
Notice textures, cuddle your pets, wrap in a cozy blanket.
Hug yourself!

This list is not exhaustive but perhaps these ideas can motivate you to be creative. Although they may not replace feeling alone, they nevertheless may be comforting.

One last Dr. Barb idea involves smiling. Try being sad or angry while you smile. It doesn’t work, does it? So even when you are by yourself…SMILE!