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Of the many cruelties of the coronavirus pandemic, this is one of the hardest to accept: In a time when all we want is to be close to the people we care about, closeness is the one thing we can’t have.
Six feet has never felt farther away.
Psychologists are worried about the long-term effects of our new, socially distant reality. Decades of research has shown that loneliness and isolation are associated with high blood pressure, chronic inflammation, weakened immune systems and a host of other health issues.
The loneliness of the coronavirus lockdown is insidious.
But there is also hope in the data. Studies have revealed that human connection – something as simple as getting an offer of help from a stranger or looking at a picture of someone you love – can ease pain and reduce physical symptoms of stress. People who feel supported by their social networks are more likely to live longer. One experiment even found that people with many social ties are less susceptible to the common cold.
For everyone quarantined in solitude, aching and afraid for far-flung family and friends, this science can provide some solace. A supportive phone call, an empathetic ear, an expression of love – these things can bolster the immune system on a molecular level. Whether you are the recipient or the giver, kindness is good for your health.
Helen Walters chats to her mother Gillian using video calling, as people find alternative ways to celebrate Mother’s Day (PA)
“There are powerful protective effects that we shouldn’t ignore,” says Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University. “And the extent to which we cannot only be open to receiving support from others … but be a source of support to them, can potentially help us all get through this.”