Since the beginning of time, human beings are hard-wired to resist change. Let me ask you to change your route to your favorite grocery store tomorrow, or perhaps ask you to stop your nail-biting habit. These are of course easier said than done. As creatures of habit, this is only natural. Part of our brain, the amygdala, interprets change as a threat foreign to the body, and in response, releases the hormones necessary for fight or flight. In a sense, our body is actually hard-wired to protect us from change.
Needless to be said, we are undergoing a time that is unlike any other. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, concerns about our own survival, and now the possibility of exercising a “new normal” phase without anyone knowing the outcome, changes and uncertainties have become our close friends. It is without a surprise that the levels of fear, stress, and anxiety have risen at an alarmingly exponential rate globally ever since the pandemic started. It is solely our bodies reacting to the nature of this time we are currently in. And of course, as biology explained it, we would not like it.
During times of high unpredictability and ambiguity, we often look for means that could offer little or any consolations in providing even just a little sense of stability and balance. We look for any little spaces of constancy that we can find, so that we can still cling on at least some of our routines and parts of ourselves. This is actually not impossible to be done, and one of the easiest means to achieve this is through our socializing patterns.
Apart from being a creature of habit, human beings have always been a social being with a basic need to belong. Numerous past researches have found a direct linkage between having extensive support systems and our overall health. For instance, research dating back to 1970s found that people with weaker social networks are more at risk to die younger than those with more social networks. A more recent study also found that people with stronger social ties are more likely to increase their overall chance of survival by 50%. Furthermore, not having any social support system is a source of chronic stress for our bodies. Those who feel lonelier have higher levels of stress hormone, cortisol, which raises the risk for health issues including cardiovascular diseases and cancer. In brief summary, having social ties are extremely important to our health, both mentally and physically.
Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, concerns about maintaining social relationships have understandably heightened due to the physical distancing protocol and travel bans, however we shall not be disheartened. There are more ways to connect and keep our social circles afloat, and people have become increasingly creative in finding new ways to connect and maintain social relationships. Some new ways of interaction that have been taking place are as follows:
- While physical distancing limit connecting through a physical meet-up, there are other means to connect and socialize while still maintain the quality in tact. Thankfully, we are living in an era where technology has prevailed. As we progress into the thick of physical distancing, we have found ourselves holding more and more video conferences, be it through FaceTime, Zoom, or Skype. We have even re-introduced classic traditions into new virtual formats, such as Virtual “Buka Puasa” (Break-Fasting get-together during Ramadhan), Virtual “Pulang Kampung” (Tradition of going back to hometowns and visiting relatives during Eid celebrations), Virtual Graduation Ceremonies, and even Virtual Anniversary Dates – all done on a screen and without having to compromise on the quality of relationships.
- Additionally, while a phone call is not the same as face-to-face interactions, it has been the surest way to maintain closeness and interactions since the day of its invention. Scheduling regular phone calls with your family and close relatives will help to provide a sense of regularity and structure while also keeping being connected in check.
- Not just virtually, people have also been experimenting on alternative physical ways to not fully dissolve physical contact. One way that has been done in some rural areas in Indonesia is through swapping home-cooked meals with neighbours by leaving them on each others’ porches or driveways. Sometimes, it could also be swapping books or any other items or gifts, which still allow another form of care and togetherness.
Lastly, people are usually confused whether the quality or quantity of social groups is more important-- whether to have many connections or a few, and whether to focus on the depth or the width of social relationships. While there is no textbook baseline to answer this dilemma, as long as we have at least one connection or social group, regardless of the number, who can act as a reliable support system during both good times or when the going gets tough, it would already make a world of difference.
Even though we are cruising through a time of volatility and uncertainty, there are ways where we can still find little pockets of constancy to still give us a sense of normalcy. While we have been given boundaries to the things we can do, there is no stopping us to keep sustaining the things we deem as important and necessary. As social creatures, human beings cannot completely let go of social interactions, and as such have found new ways to keep social connections alive.
That even with physical limits, we indeed are true social creatures.