We are as close or as far as we want to be

We are as close or as far as we want to be at any given time.

People are six or fewer social connections away from each other at any given time. That’s true if you believe the six degrees connection originally introduced by Frigyes Karinthy in his 1929 short story Chains. When we’re talking about social connections, it can make the world seem like a small place where connection is possible for people who can never touch each other.

Imagine my surprise when I woke up this morning to an email from networking connections that someone I may have been in direct contact with last week is confirmed to be two degrees of separation from someone confirmed to be diagnosed with Coronavirus.

At first, my stomach did a flip-flop dance. Then I stopped to consider what two degrees means. It means someone I may have come into direct contact with was in direct contact with someone who was in direct contact with someone else who is experiencing minor symptoms as a result of being diagnosed with Coronavirus.

If six degrees is socially close, two degrees of physical connections is a long, long way.

The news can send us into a tailspin if we let it. It bears repeating, we are as close, or as far, as we want to be. Overnight a new term “social distancing” has been introduced and gone viral, but no one knew what it was last week. Social distance is the practice of keeping at least six feet of distance between your body and people who are not in your immediate family.

In a time where changes are happening by the minute, we can expect more requests to change our behaviors without notice.

We know physical touch is essential. Touch releases oxytocin and inspires a positive outlook. Generally speaking touch:

  • Reduces social stress
  • Boosts the immune system
  • Increases dopamine, which helps us think happy thoughts

Without physical contact, we can fall into depression. We don’t know what mental health issues will result from mandatory separation, but science tells us we need touch. People who go long periods of time without touch have mental anguish.

Well, that may have been true last week. In these unchartered moments, some people are seeking isolation. We all have a different comfort level. The world is experiencing something the likes many of us have not yet lived through, but we’re bound to see the other side, even if we don’t know what it looks like yet.

Social distancing has us staying indoors, and companies scrambling to provide work-at-home solutions. We don’t know how to get kids who depend on school lunch the meals they have been receiving, but we are working on efforts to make food a drive-by, grab-and-go opportunity, according to the CBS This Morning report.

We don’t know what happens for kids too young to stay at home when parents have to go to work. What will happen if schools and daycares have to remain closed for long periods of time? Time will tell.

Some things don’t change. We need touch, even if we have to be without it for a while. It reminds me of the movie, Five Feet Apart. We can practice what we know is good for us, but only for so long. In the film, two teenagers who have cystic fibrosis fall in love. They know the risks of physical touch to their physical wellbeing, and they practice the safe distance of staying six feet apart from each other at all times until they live on the edge of reducing the mandated length by a whole foot — to five feet — to feel a closer connection.

At some point, the mandated distance isn’t worth the emotional risk, even if it risks everything.

The idea of not having physical touch is new to us. The best thing we can do for now is to honor the requests worldwide government bodies are making of their citizens. Even if we are taking measures to protect ourselves out of an abundance of caution, we can all survive a few weeks without direct physical touch.

We still have six degrees of social connection to be as close as we want to be. In the coming days, we will find new ways to advance social relationships to take care of business and household needs. Necessity is the mother of invention, and current events will inspire a burst of unforeseen inventions.

Try getting more personal than social media. Use FaceTime, Zoom, or other possibilities that allow a personal connection not available through text or social media. Find ways to see live people and hear their voices through real-time interaction. If you are a person who needs touch, you may be feeling extra stress by mandates of physical distance. This is new. Different. Maybe even scary. Whatever you feel is okay.

Anxiety is likely rising, but stay as calm as possible and connect when and where possible. Keep a physical distance, but be as close as you can with your connections and as you want to be.