In a Pandemic, Human Connection Is More Important Than Ever
One of the things the global COVID-19 pandemic confirmed is the importance of human connection to both physical and mental health. As the world locked down around us, families and friends were cut off from each other, office mates lost their daily connection, grandparents waved to grandchildren from front porches. Seniors in long-term care facilities were cut off from visitors entirely, often without understanding why, and schoolchildren of all ages lost the most important of their social outlets — the classroom and playground.
Researchers who study the effects of isolation and loneliness were quick to raise the alarm. A survey conducted in April 2020 found that 1 in 3 U.S. respondents reported feeling more lonely because of coronavirus restrictions, while 90% reported feeling more anxiety because of the pandemic. Considered in light of earlier research that found loneliness and social isolation increases the risk of mortality between 26% and 32%, it’s clear that social isolation, while necessary for decreasing the spread of infection, was also likely to increase loneliness and all of its attendant risks. Despite the need for social contact, the survey also found that up to 50% of respondents were also anxious about going back into society after the pandemic.
The Effects of Social Isolation
The harmful effects of loneliness and social isolation is not exactly new news. According to the CDC, older adults who are socially isolated are at higher risk for the following:
- premature death from all causes
- dementia (50% increase)
- heart disease (29%)
- stroke (32%)
- emergency department visits
Other research has found that social isolation and loneliness increases systemic inflammation and levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, both of which are risk factors for a wide range of chronic conditions.
The CDC also noted that for many older adults, visits with health care workers offer an opportunity to provide social interaction and interventions to reduce those harmful effects. Unfortunately, for many people, those opportunities were lessened or eliminated. Clinical ethicist Katerina Lee of St. Boniface Hospital and Compassion Network wrote, “This pandemic has shown me that human connection and health are intricately tied.” She noted, among other things, that she had seen patients and families make important health decisions based on how much the decision would limit their interactions. Other doctors have noted similar findings.
Why Telehealth and Screen Time Aren’t Enough
Health care institutions rushed to adopt telehealth visits during the pandemic, encouraged by changes in government policy that made it easier to bill for those visits. While telehealth visits were vital to providing needed physical and mental health care throughout the pandemic, they lacked one important element — the need for human touch. Two neuroscientists at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine noted that when humans can’t interact by touching, they are missing out on something essential for humans. Skin is our largest sense organ, and “social touches” — from a hand on the shoulder to a hug — directly affect our brains, facilitating the release of endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin.
How Masks Make a Difference
One of the most important tools we have for facilitating human connection through these months of uncertainty is the face mask. Face masks have been proven to reduce airborne transmission of respiratory droplets, the main way that the coronavirus spreads. The use of face masks allows people to socialize, visit, attend functions, and meet with health care providers and others. In other words, wearing a mask facilitates the social interaction on which we are dependent, as well as helps reduce anxiety by decreasing the risk of contracting COVID-19 — and other respiratory illnesses.
Why Choose SmileMask
Wearing a mask helps prevent the spread of infection, but it can make communication more difficult. We rely on facial cues to help us interpret what people are saying, not only through lip-reading, but through minute changes of expression. A SmileMask mask is designed to make communication easier by showing the entire lip and mouth area, allowing others to see a friendly smile and pick up on those all-important social cues that help us connect with each other.
SmileMask is available in original, sports, and disposable models, and can be ordered in a wide range of quantities that make the most sense for your personal or business use. Reach out to the SmileMask team with questions about special orders or large quantities.
Deb Powers is a writer from Massachusetts.
Johns Hopkins Medicine - Social Touch and Our Post-pandemic Future
Baylor College of Medicine - Social Distancing and Sadness: The Need for Human Connection
Brain, Behavior, and Immunity - Interplay Between Social Isolation and Loneliness and Chronic Systemic Inflammation During the COVID-19 Pandemic in Japan
Social Pro Now - Report: Loneliness and Anxiety During Lockdown
Centers for Disease Control: Loneliness and Social Isolation Linked to Serious Health Conditions