Living in this time of physical distancing, we may also find ourselves distancing emotionally without intending to do so. After all, it helps us to feel more comfortable if we can convince our hearts that it will be okay not to see or touch our loved ones for extended periods of time. It is especially difficult for people who live alone. Humans are social beings who depend on physical connections for maintaining self-preservation. We touch to get attention, to create emphasis on what we are saying, and withdraw our touch when we are pulling away and ending the conversation. With the changes to virtual communication in school and at work, let’s notice how we substitute the use of other senses to compensate for touch.
Oh, Say Can You See?
Consider how we use our vision to get a message across. Notice how education has turned to the use of videos in training. Many students are looking at images on the computer to better understand the content presented by the instructor. Do you see yourself as a “visual person”? Are you better able to understand what is being said if there is also a picture presented that corresponds to the written word? When people talk to you to share their thoughts and feelings, do you instantly have a picture in your mind of what they are saying? An artist would “see it.” A musician would “hear it.” A massage therapist might “feel it.” A chef might even experience what it would be like to “taste it.” We probably have certain favorite ways of taking in information that we are not even aware of. Now that touch has been mostly eliminated, how are your other senses managing this change?
Another phenomenon caused by the pandemic is that we are concentrating our touch in fewer places than before. This can complicate the close relationships between marital partners, friends, co-workers, and family members. When touch is eliminated in one place, people tend to seek it out in other places where it is still available. This can complicate a relationship that was more comfortable with a certain degree of distance but now has a demand for more closeness and more touch in response to the changing outside world. Children are more willing to reach out than adults and parents often feel that the child is regressing into an earlier stage of development where touch was more dominant in the relationship. Adults are working at home virtually and the positive feedback and reinforcement they used to get from coworkers they now need from other family members. This can create more social demands on partners who are also busy working at home. It may help to set aside time together that is designed for sharing about your workday with each other.
Pets also help to fill the gap for touch. Notice how many television shows feature animals as companions to people who are lonesome and isolated. If you have a pet, do you notice that you spend more time playing with or grooming your pet these days when your physical contact with humans has been decreased? I’ve talked with people lately who have allowed the pet to sleep with them and spend more time inside the house than before the pandemic. They feel safer and can be more protective of the pet, too.
One of the ways we can add to our visual connection is to access Zoom or other video chat platforms. I have found this to be helpful with clients, especially if they are new and we have never met in person before. Also, if they have family pictures on Facebook or similar platforms, viewing these online helps to create a sense of closeness and sharing. Not quite the same as being there to hug or shake hands together, but still better than just being limited to sound.
Do You Hear What I Hear?
Are you listening to what’s going on around you more? Being homebound, many persons are aware of how the normal sounds of the house can be disturbing. Adults complain about the noise that children make when they are trying to work. A grandmother who is the babysitter for 2 seven-year old twins tells tales of how their father gets aggravated when they are talking, singing, shouting and playing with each other while he is trying to do his work in a nearby room. What would people hear if they followed you around for a day and how are those sounds determining how you think, feel, and act? Do the sounds have more importance or feel more pronounced if you also cannot touch anyone who is nearby?
For a more positive experience with sound, you can reminisce with video recordings on social media platforms like Facebook where the sounds of familiar voices are matched with faces and bring back positive feelings as well. If you have favorite music that helps you to remember special events in the past, playing some of that music also will help take you back to those times. Try experimenting with recalling positive sounds from the past. Notice how this exercise helps restore joy and push away the sadness that had begun to creep in.
We are fortunate that many are being vaccinated and the end of the pandemic is in sight. We can begin to think more about our blessings than our limitations and believe that we will very soon be able to depend on all of our senses again for the information that we need in order to be effective workers and compassionate friends and family. How will your life be different when you don’t have to distance physically anymore and can use your sense of touch with others? What will you have learned about yourself and your ability to cope with so much uncertainty and change? How will you think and act differently? How can these insights improve your life and work?
With Warm Regards,