Social Distancing May Just Bring Us Closer to Ourselves


"Social distancing can be an incredible opportunity for us to take stock of how we are living our lives," says Julia Kamenetsky, clinical psychologist.

"We are social animals. Think back to the time of the cavepeople who lived in groups and relied on one another for survival. Our brains have been literally wired to want connection with other people. When we can't have that connection it brings on emotional pain," said Julia Kamenetsky, clinical psychologist at RIC's Counseling Center.

Due to the outbreak of COVID-19, social distancing was enforced to slow the spread of the disease. Everywhere people are wearing medical masks and rubber gloves, sidestepping each other on the street, giving each other wide berths. The unspoken message is, "You're not safe and I'm not safe." For social creatures, that's distressing. 

But there are ways we can alleviate the stress and bridge the distance, said Kamenetsky. First, she suggests balancing the amount of COVID-19 news we listen to each day and to take a break from discussing the latest news with friends.

"The reality is, you only need to check the news two or three times a day to stay up to date," she said. "But if you're checking the news throughout the day, your nervous system is going to go into overload. It will be in a constant state of fight or flight, preparing for danger. You can't think creatively in that mindset."

A big part of surviving this epidemic, she said, will be through creativity. That means leaving room in our daily lives for the simple, uninhibited pleasure of creative expression – drawing, music, exercise, dance, reading, cooking and gardening, to name a few. 

Secondly, Kamenetsky suggested we look upon social distancing as a kind of retreat. At retreats we withdraw from the world and tune into our relationship with ourselves.

Distancing "can be an incredible opportunity for us to take stock of how we are living our lives," she said, "not only on a personal level but on an interpersonal, environmental and global level."

"Instead of just wanting to rush back to our former lives, this is an opportunity to ask ourselves, 'Was the way I was living my life working for me?'" 

"One of the reasons why some of us are either constantly consuming the news or binge-watching movies and shows or consuming substances like alcohol or drugs is because there's an emotional hunger we're not in touch with," she said. 

"This overconsumption is a way of not looking at a deeper hunger for something more meaningful in our lives. We can use this time to get in touch with that deeper hunger. We can ask ourselves, 'What can I shift in my life right now to make my life more meaningful?'"

Kamenetsky encourages people to connect to online support communities, whether it be 12-step meetings or SMART Recovery meetings. 

We're all afraid, she said. No matter how physically or mentally strong we are. It's okay to acknowledge that. It doesn't make us weak. It makes us human.

An extensive list of support groups is available on the Counseling Center's website.

Support for RIC students is also available through the Counseling Center (401-456-8094) and the RIC HOPE Line (401-456-HOPE [4673]).