Mental vs Physical Health: The Importance of Social Connection in a Time of Social Isolation

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I held my 12-year-old son’s face in my hands.

First, we were told that school would be closed the first two days of the new year. Then basketball and drama classes were delayed, and band was no longer going to happen. Sigh.

Then it snowed.

The snow was actually beautiful, and he got to play in it with his siblings and they even made a cute mini-snowman. 

But the snow delayed the Tuesday morning school Covid testing which delayed the results for Wednesday which landed us right back into virtual learning.

My new greeting; “Happy f—ing new year.”

Sigh.

So, I held my 12-year-old son’s face in my hands.  I told him that I was sorry that it feels like the world has turned upside down. I said I noticed how resilient he is, that he’s making lemon aid out of lemons as he happily laid snacks around his virtual learning space. 

Then I got a text from my other son whose flight back to school was delayed. Clients canceled because they have Covid. Clients showed up to their virtual sessions with Covid. 

Sigh.

Once my older son got back to school, one student, then another, then another tested positive for Covid. 

Meanwhile, my youngest returned to in-person learning, but there’s no longer talking during lunch because masks are off. Recess with masks is a bummer. The volume on the anxiety dial is turned way up – and our twice exceptional kids pick up on that collective angst. Much of that angst is from the 2e adults around them who are themselves struggling during this time of great social deprivation. 

Our Rabbi was over the other day (in a kn95 mask, of course). He has three kids under five years old. He told me his bigger fear was the disruption to his kids’ lives if one of them gets covid – missing school for ten days – more so than the disease itself. 

I’m a pretty conservative person when it comes to health. Married to an M.D. on the frontlines, I hear A LOT about this disease and the necessary precautions. We test all the time and I hand out kn95 masks to people entering our home as if it was Halloween and the masks were candy. 

BUT… I am thinking a lot lately about how to effectively do a cost benefit analysis on mental health versus physical health. How to balance our children’s and our own needs to interact with other human beings. Perhaps a big lesson from Covid is that technology CANNOT replace human interaction. We are all ‘zoomed out.’ Trying to play video games online with friends just isn’t filling the need. Virtual meet ups leave us wanting.

Let me tell you what I’ve decided and why. In the height of the disappointing return to school, my son literally went silent. He decided it wasn’t worth it to talk. Whether there was just too much emotion or too much disappointment to warrant using his voice, he interacted and communicated, but without using his voice. This is a kid who typically talks all day long. So, I made the decision. With n95 masks as my insurance, I scheduled a playdate before we even arrived at school that silent morning. Literally within moments, my son was back to his “talk-a-blue-streak” self. I arranged for a carpool with one of his friends – everyone will wear n95 masks, we’ll crack the windows. Now my son will have regular contact with a friend even before school starts and afterward to interact about their day. 

Adults are feeling this untethering too and must make opportunities for meaningful in-person interactions with others. These days, when I walk my dog, I make a point of making eye contact and waving or saying hello to strangers, even if I’m listening to a podcast or talking on the phone. We need that human interface and acknowledgment. I arrange for friends (along with their warm blankets) to come and have a cup of coffee on our porch. Online interactions are NOT a substitute for this type of connection. Even if you are an introvert – don’t fool yourself – you still need human IN PERSON interactions. Please put yourself out there. Your comfort zone has not expanded during Covid and we all need to exercise this muscle to remain grounded and happy. We all need affirmation of our own humanity at this time. 

Take care of yourself, physically, mentally, emotionally. Be safe, but don’t let physical safety cause undue harm to your or your child’s mental and emotional health. Sitting six feet apart outside on a winter day is therapy much needed now. It’s the best thing you can do for yourself and your kids.

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Julie F. Skolnick M.A., J.D.

Julie F. Skolnick M.A., J.D.

Julie Skolnick, M.A., J.D., is the Founder of With Understanding Comes Calm, LLC, through which she passionately guides parents of gifted and distractible children, mentors 2e adults, and collaborates with and advises educators and professionals on bringing out the best and raising self-confidence in their students and clients.

2 Responses

  1. I hear ya. I wish I could find other humans to get together with today who are willing to wear a mask and/or hang out outside with some distance. Right now it’s especially hard since nearly everyone I know who hasn’t been isolating physically has Covid — and not the asymptomatic kind. We will keep looking for new in-person friends as this wave of Covid tapers off, but our virtual friends have proven themselves to be deep and loyal. Those coffee chat mom friends of “the good old days,” not so much, or should I say, not at all?

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