There’s another really powerful way to manage your anxiety, and that is through our social connections. I want to begin by taking issue with a term we’ve all come to know so well, social distancing. We do not want to practice social distancing. That is the wrong framing of what we should be doing. What we want to practice is physical distancing. We want to stay physically apart from somebody. In fact, our social networks are so powerful to our mental health so I want to claim this is not the time to socially distance. It’s a time to socially reconnect and restrengthen. What we want to do is the physical distance, but socially connect, and restrengthen, reconnect, restrengthen, connect, etc.
Our social world is really important for our ability to cope. We are social beings from birth. There’s some research on this, not all of them, which I love. We know that one of the best ways to reduce that stress, we can measure with course also we can know this very well is through the skin to skin contact. That it really is the way we naturally react after traumatic experiences. We can go beyond this and just think about some of the terrorist events that we’ve seen happen in the last little while. Virtually every time there’s some attack on a community, at first the community reacts with fear, and concern, and worry and disguised and sorrow. But at some point, usually, not too long thereafter, the community comes together, and sometimes there is a formal ceremony of some sort, sometimes it’s less formal, but we see humans who have just gone through some trauma together, pull together. In fact, this is a core part of their healing, of their dissipating the stress, and feeling like, “No, I’m part of the community of people who love and support one another.” That feeling of a community bond is extremely powerful.
We know this also from some psychological theory and we’ll get to some therapy, but let’s start with the theory because I want to use this for a couple of reasons. This is a relatively famous concept called Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. So Maslow, the basic question he was trying to answer was, what is it that drives us to seek certain things? What motivates us to go out there and do things in life? He said, well, it turns out there’s a pyramid as you see. Depending on whether you have lower-level satisfaction, I can tell you what someone’s striving for. On the very bottom level, there are these physiological needs; food, water, rest, warmth, comfort, that kind of thing. Basically what Maslow says is, if you don’t have those things covered, that’s what you’re striving for. That’s what you’re worried about, it’s getting that next bit of food, getting that next bit of water, and everything above that I’m about to talk about, you don’t care about it because you just care about satisfying your physiological needs. However, if you have those needs satisfied, you have enough food, water, you have shelter, you have warmth, you have all that, then the next thing you worry about is your safety, so your security needs. Once you have the sustenance and such you need, you want to make sure no one’s going to come and hit you over the head somehow. If you don’t feel secure leaving your house or even in your house, then that’s what you think about, and you keep trying to think of ways of making yourself more secure and enhancing your security. That’s what you need is security. If you have physiological, think of these physiological and safety. They are core to keeping you alive. What comes next? What comes next is our social needs. If we have all the food and drink we want, we have all the security we need, then what we really need is a social network, intimate relations, friends. We have this desire to connect with one another and those connections form a very emotionally insulating feedback loop where we can rely on each other and just knowing each other is there, as a way of making us feel better, making us feel connected. Our highlight is to say, this is third on the importance of humanity right after your basic needs and your security needs. That’s how important our social relationships are to us. So this is why social distancing, like no. The last thing we want to do is the social distance at a time when we’re all under stress, we want to rely on our social networks. The rest of Maslow’s hierarchy, you can check it out if you want, but if you have a good social network then you want people to respect you, so you want to have some esteem, so a lot of people, that’s what they’re worried about. For some people, they find their purpose in life someday and they reach what we call self-actualization. The best way I’ve heard that described is, for a self-actualized person, whatever they’re doing, maybe for money, they would do if it wasn’t for money. They’re not doing it for the money, they’re doing it because it feels like they’ve found their purpose in life to do that thing and that person is said to have really self-actualization.
But again, the critical point here is the importance of those social needs. One more context just to stress this, whenever we do therapeutic interventions, often we want to include a group therapy component as part of it, it’s really important for the healing process. Again, knowing others are going through what you’re going through, that they understand your feelings, that they share your feelings, that you are not alone in the situation you’re in, is so important and so comforting to human beings. That’s why we use this as part of the therapeutic process so often, we know that people going through some treatment together are very powerful forces for each other’s success and so we want to harness that force for good.
So all this to say, in this time of COVID, we also want to do that same thing, we want to really rely on our social connections to help get us through. So family, friends, let me get to new adoptions. Let’s start with family and friends, first of all, families are core and whatever you may think of your family, maybe you don’t always all get along all the time, this is a time to reach out to them and to connect with them and to ask how they’re doing and to share how you’re doing and don’t feel a need to make it all rosy. It’s not about making each other feel good all the time, sometimes it is sharing the anxiety, it’s just the fact that they care and that you feel connected to them, that’s really important.
There’s a joke that says real friends help you, now friends help you move, but real friends help you move bodies XD
A little extreme, but you get the idea. Who are your real friends? Who are those ones that are really near and dear to you and those friends you should be reaching out to? Maybe even old friends that you haven’t talked to for a while, this is a great time to reconnect with them as well. I want to talk a little bit about the depth of the interaction too. We’re all used to using social media, but we use social media often to have really light surface interactions with people. We want to get deeper. So maybe it’s time to connect with brand new people and reach out to them. So connect with people, connect with your friends, connect with your family, but learn a different way of connecting. Again, the social media, the stuff we do on Facebook, it tends to be so shallow, we post some little thoughts, we react, we can sometimes just press a button or a thumbs up and do an emoticon or something like that. It is a way of maintaining a connection, but we don’t really want to maintain a connection here, we want to use those connections, we want to mine those connections to really get the power of social interaction. Have to get to that emotional level of the interaction and I just don’t think an emoji will do. So in my opinion, we need to maybe find ways of using things like Facebook and Messenger and stuff, much more deeply, but I really think the text has its limits. So much of our emotional state, which is really where we need to connect, is conveyed through our nonverbal cues. So maybe it’s time to use FaceTime, but again, use it differently than we have, not just a quick check-in, how is everybody doing? Nice to see you, blah, blah, blah, blah. No, it’s how you are doing? How are you feeling? What are the challenges you’re facing? Wow, that sucks, wow, that must be challenging. Learning to listen to one another, I highlighted listening before, I think, but learning to listen to one another well and let that person know you heard them and respond back, those interactions are really really important, really really powerful. The human voice is extremely extremely important.
Those social connections are so important, do not socially distance, socially approach physically distance, which I think is my final slide on this one. Find ways to be socially together but physically apart, because those social connections really insulate our mental state and help us to stay balanced and managed.