Different Types of Distancing

Social, Physical and Others

Rahman Mohamed

Since 2020 began new words have entered daily conversation worldwide.  In English they include “quarantine”, “isolation”, and “distancing”.  Unknown to many there are different types of distancing.  Although measures to contain COVID-19 (Carona virus) include physical distancing, it has been named social distancing worldwide by Media, Political Leaders, and the World Health Organization (WHO).  So what is the difference between ‘Social’ and ‘Physical’ distancing?  How protective are each?

To protect oneself from infection of COVID-19, WHO and national health organisations, advise distancing yourself from another person by 2 metres or 6 feet.  Although this form of distancing takes place in the physical dimension (length, width, height) it is referred to as ‘social distancing’.

Social distancing is a form of avoiding another person in a social way.  This can be not calling, not talking, not using Facebook with the person, or just making sure you are always a certain distance away.  Social distancing can be a way of cyberbullying.

If you see your neighbour and stay 2 metres away you are physically distancing yourself.  Social distancing could be not saying “Hi”, waving, or not looking at your neighbour. It is understood not all neighbours are perfect friends. During this time worldwide social distancing, staying away from somebody’s social bubble, can play an extreme role in creating or worsening mental health difficulties. Physical health can be protected by respecting physical bubbles.

A study entitled Prejudice, Social Distancing, and Familiarity with Mental Health (2001) published by Oxford Academia in Schizophrenia Bulletin found that persons with mental health difficulties were likely to experience social distancing, a form of discrimination based on prejudice.  Often this comes from social stereotypes (ex. all Irish people are always drunk; all people that cough and sneeze three times in a row have COVID).  People who believe a stereotype build a prejudice that leads to emotional behaviour (believing someone walking outside the neighbour’s house that is full of dandelions who coughs and sneezes five times means they have COVID so fear ignites).  Someone who acts on a prejudice is discriminating (opening the window and yelling to the person who walked past the neighbour’s house, coughed and sneezed “Take your COVID out of this neighbourhood”).  This cycle (stereotype –> prejudice –> discrimination) is experienced by many (people with mental health difficulty, minorities, physically disabled, nationalities, etc.).  Social distancing because of a stereotype comes from a prejudice and can be a form of discrimination.

Even if you are at home with your family 24/7 you might unknowingly be socially distant.  Everyone might work from home and use the same dining table but if you’re a dad who is always on Zoom for a meeting or chatting about things you can be physically distant with the boss, someone only communicates to the boss by email and be socially distant from your child, someone who has no one in the family to talk to, no one to socialise with.

People around the world today have access to the internet.  Although Social Media – Facebook, Twittter, Instagram, and others are useful to socialise there are other ways.  Humans have evolved as social animals; we live together in families and groups.  Social Media is a useful tool but socialising with other people in person can be better.

One way the challenge of mental health from social distancing can be overcome is by interacting, doing things with other people.  If you live with a family try playing a board game once or twice a week.  It will give the people you’ve been forced to stay with for over 2 months to talk and laugh – play Scrabble and just put down words related to last year’s camping, the “squirrel” you thought was a “fox”.

If you live alone try calling someone you haven’t spoken with for over a year.  Although you can message people with Facebook, WhatsApp, or SMS, the sound of a person’s voice can be better for some who are socialising.  Whether or not you live alone, someone living alone hearing your voice, one that hasn’t been heard for 3 months or 3 years can have a strong influence – it gives an emotional thought, that there are people who care, lifts the feeling of being alone.

Protect yourself by being physically distant – 2 metres away from others – but don’t be socially distant.  A simple “Hi” at the grocery store has been shown to have amazing effects on people, from moving them away from suicide or bringing a smile so another “Hi” is spread.

Today (5 June 2020), according to COVID-19 related regulations in Ontario, Canada you are allowed to go outside, enjoy the fresh air and have a picnic. If you’re with your household – people you live with in the same house, you’re not required to physically distance; if the picnic is with your aunt and uncle – two other households, you’re required to physically distance. A household can stick together but the three can make a triangle you-uncle-aunt, as long as each is 2 metres apart. Social distancing will only happen if you look at your food, the park, and picnic basket; even if you just talk about the weather, make fun gestures, or make eye contact with other people you are socially interacting aka not being socially distant. You might not be able to hug your aunt because she’s physically distant, 2 metres away, but if you send her an air hug and she sends you an air kiss or wagging finger (you’re mom wasn’t socially distancing and sent the text that you’re not washing the dishes) neither of you are socially distant.



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