For a happier, healthier existence, it is essential that humans maintain relationships with family, friends, and community, particularly as they age. When this does not exist, there is an increase in loneliness leading to depression, anxiety, and mental conditions. This ultimately may lead to physical illness and dis-ease. Human interaction helps us cope with stress, difficult life events, and even lengthens our lifespan.
We now know that newborn infants are soothed, cry less, and sleep more peacefully after “skin-to-skin” contact with a loving human. Babies that are not touched or held, as those in an orphanage, do not thrive or grow in the same way and may even have a shorter life span. As they grow, toddlers develop social and life skills by modelling what they see .
Children learn much better in a classroom situation with a kind teacher, friends, and playmates than in virtual classrooms. They learn when it is time to laugh and make noise and have fun and when it is time to settle down and get to work. Recess is a time to play, relax the nervous system, regenerate, and renew. The classroom, no matter how crowded, is a wonderful place to learn cooperation, manners, the sharing of ideas, patience, rules, how to get along with others, including those from differing backgrounds, and respect for the property of others.
Seniors often experience a dramatic decline in human interaction due to the loss of friends through illness or death, a move to a nursing home, diminished eye sight or hearing, and/or a loss of mobility. They may no longer be able to drive their cars or easily visit with friends or neighbours. This is a definite precursor for loneliness, depression, and dementia. Having friends and family close by will keep them engaged, happy, and feeling like there is life yet to be lived. Living in a senior community can be a great solution for those that are still active. Being computer savvy can definitely be a blessing allowing them to stay in touch, share and save photos, be creative, and play games, despite a more sedentary lifestyle.
Around the beginning of the 21st Century, technology began to replace face to face connections for many addicted to their smart phones. Many chose to text, message, and email one another, while ignoring the people sitting right next to them, at the dinner table, at a restaurant, in their car, and even at a party. Others spent more time chatting with strangers on social media than with family and friends living close by. Studies indicate that obsessive users of cell phones may experience greater anxiety and depression.
Yet, as we navigate the “new normal” of 2020-21, we have found many creative ways of staying in touch without touching, even while social distancing, through the use of this technology. Online Book Clubs, Exercise Classes, Bridge and Canasta groups, Coffee Clutches, Meditation Workshops, Seminars, Webinars, Weekly family get togethers, Spiritual discussion groups, and more have sprouted where none existed virtually prior to March and have managed to keep us feeling connected. Many of us have even figured out how to create a way of working online and, at the same time, staying in touch with fellow workers by email, text, ZOOM, and phone. In the short term, this has been a way to dispel the feelings of isolation during a pandemic.
But the question still remains. Can we survive on a permanent basis without face to face interactions, hugs, and time spent with the people who feed our souls? Is a virtual connection enough? Can we survive without other human beings to touch, hug, or connect with, physically and emotionally? We are, in fact, social beings, beginning from the moment we are born. Nothing can take the place of human connection and human touch. There is a wonderful quote by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.”
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