Every day, we step out of our homes with ambition in our eyes, aspirations in our heart and a desire to change the world as we want to see it (until someone ate a bat somewhere?). At the heart of this colossal myriad of everything lies something that defines our whole existence – the ability to connect with another human being. Human connection is the exchange of positive energy between people. The potential of feeling understood and united through human connection is one of the most rewarding elements in life. It has the power to deepen the moment and the bond between people, inspire change and build trust. It has proven to lower anxiety & depression, help us regulate our emotions better and lead to higher self-esteem and empathy, which is actually said to change our immune systems for the better. A research study by Harvard, conducted over a period of 80 years, proves that human connections and healthy relationships are the number one & two drivers of longevity, respectively. Though, our inherent need for a human connection doesn’t mean that every introvert must become a social butterfly. Instead, having a human connection can look different for everyone. Irrespective of what it is for each person, it serves a purpose which nothing else can – make someone feel genuinely happy, and at peace.
“Humans have this dire need to connect. Our brains have learned from brutal evolutionary lessons that social isolation is a death sentence” said James Coan, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia. The power of touch releases oxytocin, the feel-good hormone. Albeit temporarily, the coronavirus has stripped us all of this supposed elixir for the mind. We are a social species and hence it is not easy to NOT touch each other, as so much of our communication is defined by these touches. While technology seems to be connecting us more than ever, the blue-light emitting screens disconnect us from nature, from ourselves, and from other human beings.
As much as people are struggling with an economic recession, they are struggling with an emotional recession too, due to loneliness. Loneliness is not just a feeling in one’s head; it is a biological instinct to seek out other human beings, just like hunger is a signal that sends a person to seek out food. In a situation where we have to stay at home, all by ourselves, such as the one caused by this pandemic, this feeling of loneliness might escalate for many, with limited ways of assuaging it. Even though in some parts of the world, nations have started to open up, the fear of catching the disease will remain in people’s minds, for a long time to come. The isolation caused by this is proven by science to exact a physical toll on the brain’s circuitry. The confluence of multiple challenges during the pandemic – to health, education, jobs, access to resources has produced a bizarre assemblage of circumstances that increase the risk of depression and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. In times of disaster, we seek respite in the fact that there is an ending to it which can be accurately predicted. But with this pandemic, we see no end in sight, which makes it more traumatic and compounds the negatives.
In a situation where loneliness exacerbates the negative effects of the pandemic, how do we ensure that we connect in a way which is good for us and also reduces the risk of spreading the disease? In our current situation, the need to reduce physical distances, boost social or relational connections, and not see a rise in loneliness and related mental health problems poses a big problem for us. We need a connection culture, which is rich in relational connection while maintaining a physical distance between individuals. Technology has been a big boon for man since time immemorial, and it is this technology that comes to our rescue here. Be it a conventional video call with friends, a virtual cocktail party, gaming sites where people can compete virtually, watching movies and shows with your friends, or any other thing, we have seen a lot of new inventions throughout the course of this pandemic.
So, how does the coronavirus revolutionise human connection and communication? For the past few decades, humans have focused increasingly on earning money and material belongings, which coupled with rapid technological growth led to the neglect of human relationships, at large. But now that we’re stuck in our homes, the best means of surviving psychologically is to interact with people by whatever means possible. But most importantly, we have begun to understand the value of a human connection, a panacea for all mental health issues, that has no other substitute, in its true essence. ‘We realise the true value of anything, only after it is taken away from us’ – asserts a very common saying. Each and every one of us, throughout the course of this pandemic, have felt the importance of a human connection, and it is this realisation in our hearts, which will make us value real connections over materialistic things. And it is this realisation, that finally helps us understand what’s more important: material wealth or mental health?
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