Among various precautions that need to be taken against the novel coronavirus, maintaining “social distance” has been chiefly advised. This has become a popular phrase but to me, it is a misnomer. “Physical distancing” is a better term than “social distancing.” Social connections are crucial to human development and mental health. It is important to stay connected with people even while staying in at home. Aristotle was right in saying, “Man is by nature a social animal.” Humans are innately and fundamentally social beings which makes it difficult for them to stay away from others. Although physical distancing is a must, we have to stay socially connected amid this Covid crisis.
Physical, mental, and social health are deeply interwoven and interdependent. Many academicians across the world have been emphasising on the significance of strong social bonds. Olshansky once said, “History has shown us that collaborative, mutually supportive communities are the ones that are the most successful at sustainably recovering from large disasters.” It is good to notice that even the WHO has announced a change in its terminology by stressing on the use of “physical distancing” rather than “social distancing”. Staying in isolation at home does not mean turning asocial. Social isolation can have serious repercussions on a person’s physical and mental health.
As coronavirus spreads mainly through respiratory droplets when people cough or sneeze, it is highly recommended to maintain a safe physical distance. Social distancing, though, suggests avoidance of communication with each other. The idea should not be to convey a sense of a more individualistic society. Social distancing or isolation is never good for mental wellbeing. At this time it is essential to maintain physical distance but it should not be at the cost of disconnect from our loved ones. While hearing the sad news of thousands of new Covid positive cases and deaths every day, emotional support is what we need from our loved ones.
True that Covid cases are rising in Kashmir, but how can we forget the decades of violence and conflict in our valley which has taken a huge toll on the mental health of Kashmiri people. Kashmiris have been badly suffering from mental distress, anxiety, and depression, and have experienced conflict-related trauma, anxiety disorders, etc, for a long time now. As we are all stuck in homes, there are a good number of ways in which we can reach out and connect with others. Emotional connection, fellow feeling, togetherness, and community bonding can be maintained through mobile phones and computers. There are so many online platforms which can help in staying in touch with each other. Strong social ties, mutual trust, and cohesion can help us in a substantial way in getting through disasters.
As it is quite unclear how long the pandemic will last, staying home for extended periods can make people feel restless and anxious. Social interaction through various means is necessary and crucial at this time. Keeping contact with loved acquaintances will boost morale and fight the ill effects of isolation. So, instead of “social distancing,” isn’t it better to practise “distant socialising?” Better internet services can be a big help in doing so, but alas! Jammu and Kashmir is stuck with 2G speed. I don’t understand how it is possible for our students to learn through online mode with such internet speed. I am not able to watch even a 5-minute video on YouTube without buffering. Still, like always, we will face these hard times together and we shall overcome. With whatever means possible, staying connected with dear ones will make people happier and healthier. We should not let “physical distancing” become “social distancing.”
As Faraz says, “Qurbaten laakh khoobsurat ho / Dooriyun main bhi dilkashi hai abhi.” The Covid slogan must be—“Stay apart, but stay connected.”
The writer is a PhD scholar, Department of English, Central University of Kashmir. [email protected].