The unexpected social demands of social distancing
Probably not much, if you, like me, are trying to limit how much you go out. But good social distancing in 2020 doesn't mean complete and utter social isolation. In fact — as I've realized this week — it means being constantly on call.
A self-quarantine is the best way most of us can individually help slow the spread of coronavirus; it "flattens the curve," or the rate at which people are getting sick at the same time, and lowers the chances that hospitals will be overwhelmed with thousands of critical cases all once. Many states and cities are now officially mandating this to varying degrees by closing businesses, banning public gatherings of more than a few people, or even ordering people to not leave their homes at all unless it's urgent.
I am on day four of my own strict social distancing, and many of my friends have likewise been shut-in for as long or longer. Many of us are also now out of work, and spend the long hours of the day pacing apartments with a mix of cabin fever and existential dread. After about two days of having no face-to-face social interaction with anyone other than my live-in boyfriend and cats, I also started getting antsy. So, apparently, did everyone else; this past week has been full of talking to friends the old-fashioned way (on the phone, with my voice), Facetiming relatives, and converting my social life into a virtual one with devices that had only been supplementary before.
There are a lot of benefits to this way of socializing, in addition to fulfilling your moral responsibility to your community by keeping yourself healthy. I've reconnected with people I haven't spoken to in years, and am moved by colleagues' and acquaintances' concerns about my mental and physical wellbeing during this strange and uncertain time. The downside to this constant interconnectedness and availability, though, is just that — there is no escaping when someone wants to talk, or text, or Skype. What are you supposed to say? "I'm busy"? "I have other plans"? Living under quarantine is like living with the read receipts on — everyone knows you're there.
Guess I can’t use the “sorry, I’m busy” or the “I have plans” excuse anymore because we are all in QUARANTINE
— Jen (@jenn_caplan) March 17, 2020
We’re all in quarantine, so if they don’t text you back then i got bad news for you
— ʙᴀɴᴀ (@bana_rifai) March 16, 2020
If I facetime you during this quarantine and you don't answer, we're no longer friends. Because you're not doing ANYTHING
— (@saraeyajamai_) March 18, 2020
While in normal times (remember those?) there had been a certain amount of respect for people's private lives, nothing about our existence is really private in the same way anymore. Or rather, with life now limited to minimal physical proximity to others, we are finding ways to bring interactions that would previously have taken place outside the house into our kitchens and living rooms. There are no more boundaries between personal time and social time; one minute you're texting someone, the next you're bored and scrolling through Twitter or reading your book, and the next you're getting a Skype request from your overly-protective aunt. And while you might have had a routine and schedule and engagements and plans before, now everyone knows when you're pretending to not have seen their text. Because what else could you possibly be doing?
Checking up on people, even incessantly, is important. True social isolation is certainly a very real threat during times of quarantine, particularly for older generations who don't adapt as easily to new technologies that can help them stay in touch, like video chats. People who live alone are also at risk of withdrawing socially. Loneliness can become a serious and real danger to our health when it gets bad enough, and studies have found that nearly a third of people show signs of depression when they come out of quarantine, Quartz reports. It's easy to spiral when you're on your own and hard to cope if you lose your support system abruptly due to an outbreak.
But there can also be a feeling of claustrophobia when you swing back too far the other way. Many people are in isolation with partners or family members, meaning there is already a certain level of obligatory interaction taking place day in and day out. The very technologies that allow us to have a healthy ongoing social life with the rest of the world can compound our feeling of being trapped or captive, too. It's of the utmost importance to still make space for yourself, both by retreating physically to create boundaries with the people you share a space with, and virtually, by not picking up every call or text the moment you get it. That might mean self-mandated wifi blackouts for an hour or two a day, or scheduling digital hangouts with the same specificity as you might a coffee date. It's okay to say no, too: "I'm too tired" is a perfectly valid excuse not to talk right now. We're all feeling it.
This is a weird time to be alive. Most Americans are facing dramatic, and often scary, lifestyle changes and uncertain futures. Through it all, we've never been more alone — or united. Remember, alright to need a moment. Just let me call you back.
While America is practicing social distancing, I'm adding daily culture recommendations for how to pass those extra hours at home. My pick for today:
It's easy to feel icky and sedentary when you're stuck at home, which is why I'm obsessed with 305 Fitness' afternoon dance parties. Every day at noon (and again at 6 p.m. ET), their YouTube channel livestreams a music-centric cardio workout to "shake off the stress." I did my first over the weekend and it was a blast. Dance like no one's watching — because no one is.