True Cellular Formulas Team - November 09, 2023

Social Distancing

The Hidden Toll on Our Mental Health


In a world that swiftly transitioned to a ‘new normal’, social distancing became a common phrase and practice in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. From taped-off benches in parks to the omnipresent six-foot reminders in store aisles, the physical markers of distance were clear. Yet the emotional ramifications, though less visible, were deeply felt across communities and cultures. Without downplaying the complexity of the public health crisis, it's important to explore the layers of impact that social distancing has had on our emotional health. This blog aims to shine a light on the potential emotional repercussions that the response to the pandemic has incited.

The Human Need for Connection

We are inherently social beings, with a primal need for connection and interaction. From a psychological standpoint, human contact isn’t just a pleasure; it’s a requirement for both mental and emotional health.[1] When social distancing measures were implemented, they impinged on this basic need, placing an invisible strain on our collective psyche. Studies have shown that positive social interactions are linked to a decrease in stress levels and an increase in overall life satisfaction.[2] The deficit created by social distancing has the potential to disrupt our emotional equilibrium, leaving individuals feeling unmoored in the absence of regular, supportive human contact.

The Emergence of 'Skin Hunger'

The term 'skin hunger' encapsulates the deeply felt need for human touch—a handshake, a hug, a pat on the back—that went largely unmet during the height of social distancing. The human touch is a powerful communicator, essential in building and reinforcing bonds, and crucial for emotional well-being. Touch can soothe, heal, and connect, and its absence can have profound psychological effects. The longing for touch is more than metaphorical; it has tangible consequences on our health, contributing to feelings of anxiety, depression, and loneliness. The touch deprivation witnessed during periods of social distancing brings to the forefront the question of how critical physical contact is to our emotional resilience.[3]

The Rise of Digital Interactions and Their Limitations

With the advent of social distancing, digital communication became a lifeline for many. Video calls, virtual meetings, and online events tried to fill the gap left by in-person interactions. While technology proved to be an invaluable tool for staying connected, it also illuminated the limitations of digital communication. Nuances of conversation and the warmth of presence are often lost in translation to pixels and screens. The experience of ‘Zoom fatigue’ began to be documented widely, with users reporting a sense of exhaustion that followed prolonged video interactions.[4] The digital realm, while providing an alternative means of connection, also highlighted the nuances that are missing when we are not physically together—subtleties that are vital for emotional connection and understanding.

Social Distancing and the Deterioration of Social Skills

As the world embraced social distancing, the implications for our collective social skills began to emerge. Without regular interactions, many of us started to feel the atrophy of our interpersonal abilities. It wasn’t just about missing out on social events; it was the everyday exchanges that we took for granted which now seemed like a distant memory.

Children, who typically learn to navigate social nuances at school and in play, were suddenly limited to their immediate family circles, missing critical opportunities for development.[5] Adults, too, felt the impact. The ease of networking events, casual office banter, or simply making small talk with strangers at a café was replaced with a palpable social awkwardness upon returning to these once-normal situations. The lack of practice in these environments made even the most socially adept amongst us question our interaction skills.

The Psychological Impact of Social Distancing

The effects of social distancing on mental health were both immediate and far-reaching. Mental health professionals reported a marked increase in cases of loneliness, depression, and anxiety.[6] Social support structures that typically help people cope with stress were disrupted. This loss of support compounded the stressors many were facing, such as economic uncertainty, health anxieties, and the challenges of home life.

The feeling of physically alone took on new weight, as did the term 'isolation'. Even those who considered themselves to be introverts found the extended lack of choice in socializing to be draining. The quiet crisis of mental health began to swell, setting off alarms for health professionals and social scientists alike. The emotional well-being of populations was at risk, indicating a need for greater emphasis on mental health support.[7]

Coping Mechanisms and Building Resilience

In the face of the emotional toll of social distancing, people began to adapt and find new ways to cope. Many turned to the outdoors for solace, where activities like hiking and cycling saw a surge in popularity. Gardening, cooking, and other home-based hobbies provided a sense of control and fulfillment amidst the chaos.

Technology also plays a vital role in resilience-building. Virtual therapy sessions became more normalized, providing crucial support. Social media took on a new role, not just as a platform for sharing content, but for fostering a sense of community and belonging. Virtual events, online courses, and streaming services allowed people to stay engaged and connected to their interests and to each other.

But perhaps most importantly, this period has highlighted the strength of the community. From balcony concerts to neighborhood support groups for the vulnerable, the crisis has spawned countless examples of solidarity and compassion. It's a reminder that while we may have been physically apart, in many ways, we've learned to come together like never before.

Lessons Learned and the Path Forward

Looking ahead, it’s crucial to carry forward the lessons learned about our emotional needs. The pandemic has served as a stark reminder of the value of personal interactions and the joy of life’s social aspects. As we gradually return to our routines, or establish new ones, maintaining the connections that sustained us during the hardest times will be essential.

Mental health has taken center stage, and with it, the understanding that our emotional well-being is as vital as our physical health. The increase in resources for mental health support is a positive outcome that needs to be sustained and built upon. As we rebuild and reform our social structures, we must do so with an eye on nurturing our innate need for connection, ensuring that our environments are conducive to both physical safety and emotional prosperity.


Social distancing has taught us much about the complexity of human needs. We've seen how critical physical health is, but we've also felt the weight of emotional absence. It's a delicate balance we must strike—protecting ourselves and our communities from physical harm while also tending to our emotional health.

The pandemic has changed us, but it has also shown us the power of our collective spirit. As we move forward, we must continue to support each other, remember the importance of connection, and carry with us the lessons of compassion and resilience that have gotten us through these times. The hope is that we emerge from this not just with a renewed sense of community but with a deeper understanding of what it means to be inherently social beings in an interconnected world.

  1. Umberson, Debra, and Jennifer Karas Montez. “Social relationships and health: a flashpoint for health policy.” Journal of health and social behavior vol. 51 Suppl,Suppl (2010): S54-66. doi:10.1177/0022146510383501
  2. Goldberg, Susan, et al. Attachment Theory: Social, Developmental, and Clinical Perspectives. Routledge, 2016. 
  3. Ellingsen, Dan-Mikael et al. “The Neurobiology Shaping Affective Touch: Expectation, Motivation, and Meaning in the Multisensory Context.” Frontiers in psychology vol. 6 1986. 6 Jan. 2016, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01986
  4. Riedl R. On the stress potential of videoconferencing: definition and root causes of Zoom fatigue. Electron Mark. 2022;32(1):153-177. doi: 10.1007/s12525-021-00501-3. Epub 2021 Dec 6. PMID: 35600914; PMCID: PMC8645680.
  5. Orben, Amy et al. “The effects of social deprivation on adolescent development and mental health.” The Lancet. Child & adolescent health vol. 4,8 (2020): 634-640. doi:10.1016/S2352-4642(20)30186-3
  6. “Covid-19 Pandemic Triggers 25% Increase in Prevalence of Anxiety and Depression Worldwide.” World Health Organization, 
  7. Brandt, Lasse et al. “The effects of social isolation stress and discrimination on mental health.” Translational psychiatry vol. 12,1 398. 21 Sep. 2022, doi:10.1038/s41398-022-02178-4

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