Who is missing hugging? When was the last time you hugged someone without wearing PPE or a face mask? While we all appreciate the necessity of maintaining our personal space and not inflicting our personal hygeine and our bacterial/viral footprint on our friends and family, and we all have to do our part while we ride out the pandemic….. a lack of social contact can also be detrimental to mental and physical health, studies have shown.

Today in Psychology Corner, we will touch briefly on the science, then move onto ways we can get that vital human contact while not breaking the rules.

An oft-cited 2010 meta-analysis, by Juliannne Hold-Lunstad at Brigham Young University in Utah*, found that a lack of social interactions was as significant a cause of death as lipid count, lung disease or cholesterol.

“We also found that social isolation had a similar influence on likelihood of mortality compared with other measures of social relationships. This evidence qualifies the notion of a threshold effect (lack of social relationships is the only detrimental condition); rather, the association appears robust across a variety of types of measures of social relationships.

This meta-analysis also provides evidence to support the directional influence of social relationships on mortality,” i.e. the level of social and community support received by someone who is already ill but not, in the majority of studies, sufficient to require hospitalization — 60% involved a community cohort giving outpatient support.

Social support was also demonstrated to have tangible effects mediating depression and stress, which can impair the immune response and lead to other physical health conditions.

“a number of studies indicate that social support is linked to better immune functioning [194][197] and to immune-mediated inflammatory processes [198].”

A more recent ongoing study at University College London and Royal Holloway, University of london, shows that subjects are reporting the negative effects of the withdrawal of their traditional social networks; Mariana von Mohr, one of the project’s leaders, told the New Scientist, “The deprivation of intimate touch during covid-19 is associated with worse psychological well-being, including feelings of loneliness, anxiety, less emotional tolerance for social isolation and poorer mental health in general.”

Ways to get your social fix:

  • Zoom meetings. Like actual meetings, but without the commute.
  • Facebook room chats. It’s like hosting a dinner party, but without the risk of having to cook something and risk food poisoning, fire or falling short of a Michelin Star.
  • Online fitness and dance classes — myself a big fan, as no one can charm a room and make you feel included like a professional fitness instructor. It’s a vital part of their skill set. And the sense of acheivement you get after sweating through a new choreography is unparalleled.

Especially when the only positive feedback I get from my social network is ‘Well done Jessica, you cleaned your room. It has passed inspection…. No you can’t have your washing back. As you left it in the laundry room, which is a communal space, we have locked it away for your own good.’

No they are lovely people really. I just miss the time I could choose who I associated with and hung out with, pre-lockdown. Now you are stuck with the people you happen to share a house with, those of us who did not carefully pre-select their housemates are slightly regretting accepting a tenancy co-habiting with a couple of grumpy 70-somethings with incontinence issues, a rehabilitated junkie who still thinks it’s the sixties, and an up-and-coming young man who’s trying to downplay his criminal assault charge.

Oh, and the old lady next door who periodically throws away my sports trainers when she gets jealous I am still limber enough to go jogging.

So, look after your social networks folks, and they will look after you. Neglecting your social network is akin to self-neglect. So don’t forget to water your friendships every now and then or they may wilt.

former B2B journalist and financial PR trying to move into the mainstream. I am a thesaurus of jargon acronyms and formulas. Hire me

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