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Spontaneous Overflow Reflecting in Tranquility

The Official Blog of Michael Schoenhofer, Executive Director

Thoughts by Myself #12 – Human Connection

We miss being with each other.

Yesterday I walked to the Library. I knew it was closed, but I wanted to find out how long it would take me to walk downtown from my house. It is 1.36 miles and took 31minutes and 27 seconds. I enjoyed seeing traffic and other people out and about. I stopped for a moment to watch ironworkers perched on the top of steel I-Beams, scrambling around like squirrels, building the new health education center at St. Rita's Hospital.

I have to admit that I am getting tired of Zoom meetings. We Zoom with our kids in Chicago. I just finished a Zoom Board meeting and a Zoom conference call. For the past month, electronic meetings are the only way we can keep in touch. I’m not complaining about the stay-at-home order or our need to isolate, I am convinced that I am saving lives.

But I realize how much I miss face-to-face human contact. I spoke to some friends who only come out of the house once a week to shop. They used to think a Friday working from home was fantastic. Now going to work is looking so much better. We are not built for social distancing. We have five senses, and we are only using two of them when we connect online. Many of us feel lonely.

Frank Bruni, in his article, We’re Not Wired to Be this Alone, writes about how quickly we adapted to the stay-at-home order. Schools developed on-line classrooms, companies equipped staff with remote workstations, even restaurants began promoting take away food services. Physicians and therapists are treating patients using telehealth. Maybe this will be the beginning of living more in cyberspace. But it is taking a toll.

Loneliness was already an epidemic before Coronavirus made its appearance. And our social isolation is exacerbating the situation. According to the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA), loneliness and social isolation can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. There is compelling evidence linking social isolation to the development and worsening of cardiovascular disease, repeat heart attacks, autoimmune disorders, high blood pressure, cancer, and slowed wound healing. (Journal of Health and Social Behavior)

Our need for connectedness and social support is built into our DNA. Psychologist Susan Pinkner tells us that face-to-face contact creates more significant activity in brain areas linked to physical health outcomes like the survival of breast cancer and heart attacks and to mental health outcomes like improved social problem-solving and resilience. We can’t replicate this using a video conference. Social contact is transformative.

"Just as we all require food, water, and sleep to survive, we all need genuine human contact. Digital devices are great for sharing information, but not great for deepening human connections and a sense of belonging." (Susan Pinkner)

It begins with admitting we feel lonely and then taking specific actions to reach out to someone. It might include reconnecting with old friends, volunteering, or joining a group of people with similar interests like creative arts, exercise, bird-watching, or anything that provides an opportunity for meaningful engagement.

For now, video connection with my kids in Chicago or with colleagues will have to suffice. I am learning not to take my face-to-face relationships with my family, friends, and colleagues for granted. But I am looking forward to the time, when it is safe, that I can connect face-to-face. And I hope that when that time comes, I will remember how much I missed this human interaction in my life.

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