Time to mingle – the Exhilarating Fear

 


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 “We don't heal in isolation, but in community.” 
 S. Kelley Harrell, Gift of the Dreamtime - Reader's Companion

 

This post is dedicated to Julia, my dear friend, who encouraged me to write on the topic. Thank you, Julia <3 

Each step seemed like scaling a wall with no handholds to grip on to. My chest tightened as my heart raced, and my breath was so deep that I could hear it filling my ears with deafening pain. After a long and arduous walk down my apartment staircase, I reached the adjacent park. A few masked strangers were out and about, engrossed in their training routines. They moved cautiously, adjusting their masks as they attempted to maintain a safe distance. Through the thin slit between my cap and face mask, I quickly scanned the area – ‘Nobody is watching me. Nobody is approaching me. I am OK. I will make it through this hour-long run’.
 
That’s me in my head. Never before have I felt this socially anxious and fearful. 
 
We’ve been forced to be asocial for almost two years now, at least physically. Consequently, many people find in-person social contacts uncomfortable — it’s as if we will have to relearn how to be around another human being. While the economic concerns and physical and emotional wellness have attracted more attention, I wonder how long-lasting the undeniable negative consequences will be on our social health and wellbeing? 
 
Following the recovery of my social anxiety episode at the park, I talked to a few friends about it. I was not surprised to learn that they, too, felt the same way. As Melbourne, the most liveable locked-down city in the world, sets to open up, we experience an oxymoron of emotions. While we celebrate excitedly, getting back into society stirs up fear. 
 
When the pandemic caught the world off-guard, governments imposed draconian restrictions as people found themselves pushed to adhere to new norms. The measures sent a powerful psychological message about the dread of others, as well as the notion that others might be carriers of lethal viruses and life-threatening illnesses. This led to widespread fear and even paranoia. 
 
The human race has built its foundation on social engagement and sharing emotional and physical space with others. Think of a sporting event where spectators experience the rise and fall of emotions simultaneously. It significantly amplifies your experience and reinforces the notion that you’re something larger than yourself. Whether at work, at restaurants, or in public places, physical encounters between individuals have long been a part of our culture. We are used to working in teams, travelling to new locations, and meeting and becoming acquainted with new people. As we travel through life, a large part of what satisfies us are the connections we form with other people, and these bonds are often manifested via physical encounters.
 
Social distancing poses the risks of increased social rejection, impersonality, individuality, and a loss of community. This illustrates the degree to which humans and their social environments are inextricably linked. Social participations contribute to society’s cohesiveness and while no one expects societies to fall apart due to lockdowns, it is critical to recognise and address the detrimental implications on our communities. Social connections are a basic human need, and social isolation impedes it, affecting our social health in the process. It is unarguable that physical separation may be necessary at times. However, the social aspects of our relationships must be reinforced to maintain our friendships and relationships. While COVID-19 spreads readily via human interaction, it is critical to remember that the virus, not people, is our adversary.
 
Let’s relearn to connect – let’s do it together!

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