Examples of acts of kindness and community are cropping up in my social circle. For instance, a neighbor posted a note using the Nextdoor app to offer help to anyone with errands or groceries during this extraordinary time. A 78-year-old woman responded, saying she was okay for now, but wasn’t sure if she’d need something in the future. It comforted her, she said, to know she could reach out.
Research has repeatedly shown that people with strong social connections experience immunity boosts. Yet, with the need to remain physically distant, we can’t connect the way we used to. Stress build-up is another immunity issue. Numerous studies show that long-term stress hurts our ability to fight infection.* Given that our immune systems need every advantage we can give them right now, we need to keep calm and build resilience any way we can. So, how can we gain the positive health benefits of both social distancing and emotional closeness?
Poet Emily Dickinson wrote,
They might not need me; but they might.
I’ll let my head be just in sight;
A smile as small as mine might be
Precisely their necessity.
Here’s a few ideas for keeping all our heads in sight, even as we hunker down:
- Use the phone. Make it a point to call someone you haven’t talked to in awhile, particularly someone you suspect might be feeling a little anxious about the situation. Ask them how they’re doing. Reassure them.
- Know someone, especially a senior, who lives alone? Though solitude can be soothing, loneliness is not. It’s a good time to show your compassion and reach out with a phone call or a note. Consider senior living facilities in your neighborhood. If your child is out of school, could he or she become a pen pal with a resident? Could you?
- Take a lap or two around the block, make eye contact, smile and wave at anyone you see. You don’t want to get too close, but just the effort at friendliness at a distance could help you take advantage of social connection while you enjoy the sunlight and exercise — all known mood-boosters.
- Write some ‘just because’ thank you notes. Send one or two a day. You can use email or good old-fashioned snail mail. Gratitude is another great way to boost your mood and get the good immune-response. I wrote one today to a mentor of mine. I’ll write another one tomorrow.
- Keep up the social contacts (and your fitness)by instigating or participating in a ‘Work(out) From Home’ challenge. We shared some simple workouts with a group of co-workers that don’t require a gym and asked everyone to commit to an individual goal and report on their success. When things return to ‘normal’ we’ll celebrate in person, in the meantime we’ll encourage each other along the way.
Most of us can’t do a thing about containing the virus, except to follow medical advice. But, while we don’t have control over that part of this situation, we absolutely do have control over how we choose to respond to it. Knowing we have this control is another way we can reduce stress. I believe we can all make a difference here. Maybe what we do now to stay positive and find ways to connect more deeply with others, despite the physical distance, will help us stay healthier and happier in the months and years to come. Maybe we’ll smile more at our neighbors and forge connections during this time that we might have taken for granted before. In uncertain times, there is as much reason to hope for positive change, as there is to fear the hard stuff. But, it takes a little work to change our minds and habits. I’m up for it. I know you are too.
Herbert, T.B. & Cohen S. (1993) Stress and immunity in humans: A meta-analytic review. Psychosomatic Medicine, 55(4) 364–379
McLeod, S. A. (2010). Stress, illness and the immune system. Simply psychology: https://www.simplypsychology.org/stress-immune.html
O’Leary, A. (1990). Stress, emotion, and human immune function. Psychological Bulletin, 108(3), 363–382. doi 10.1037/0033–2909.108.3.363
Morey J. N., Boggero I. A., Scott A. B., Segerstrom S. C. (2015). Current directions in stress and human immune function. Curr. Opin. Psychol. 25 13–17. 10.1016/j.copsyc.2015.03.007
Marshal, D. (n.d) Taking care of your mental health in the face of uncertainty. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Retrieved from https://afsp.org/taking-care-of-your-mental-health-in-the-face-of-uncertainty/?fbclid=IwAR1h0-LPIok3aUCttzccMzH2y5uuXDSc6oTQRC692FzqoHIGWVI7LnuJrho