“Social distancing” is a necessary precaution to keep our communities safe. However, doing so means that we have to put our lives on pause. For many of us, that means being separated from our friends, family, and coworkers, and having to deal with feeling lonely and isolated from the people we care about.
John Cacioppo likened the feeling of loneliness to hunger. Social connection is closely linked to overall well-being. As most of us understand, interpersonal relationships play a big role when it comes to managing stress —which is why having to isolate during uncertain times can feel harder than it might under normal circumstances.
While we can’t necessarily do anything about the need to socially distance, there are little things we can do every day to try to feel more connected while apart. At Embr, we’re particularly interested in the power of temperature to do this. The field of Social Thermoregulation presents us with various ways in which we understand social interactions with thermal undertones (i.e. a “warm” smile or a “cold” shoulder).
Here are a few tips on how to use temperature to feel connected, plus ways to manage your social wellness during this time:
1. Hold something warm while calling or FaceTiming a friend
Having a screen between you and a friend feels different than meeting up with them in person for your regular coffee or lunch date, especially when you lose the connecting power of touch. Studies show that holding something warm can make you feel closer to the people around you—or on the other side of the screen.
2. Feeling anxious? Try cold water
This is a stressful time for many people, and it’s not always easy to know how to handle moments of intense anxiety. Research has shown that cold water can reduce cortisol levels, release endorphins, and bring down your heart rate. The Diving Effect also shows us how submerging in cold water allows your body to reset emotionally from an aroused state (angry, sad, stressed) to a neutral state.
3. Take a hot shower or warm bath
One study found that subjects experiencing social exclusion had their need for social affiliation eliminated by an experience of physical warmth. Hot showers or baths can help stimulate the comfort that you regularly receive from common social interactions. It isn't the same as being with the people you love, but alleviating the physical feelings of isolation can be a good start to feeling better!
4. Commit to a wellness goal with a loved one
Whether it’s taking walks with your family every day, using your spare time to meditate, or sharing workouts to do at home, it’s more important than ever to commit to activities that make your mind and body feel good. While our normal lives may be facing serious disruptions, this can also be an opportunity to share in growth with your friends and loved ones.
5. Connect over books, articles, and art with each other
Even if you can’t physically be around other people, sharing experiences can still be very meaningful. If you read something exciting, share it with your friends and schedule a time you can all talk about it. These little moments of feeling connected over a shared laugh or interest can make all of the difference.
Embr Labs is working with professor and social thermoregulation expert Hans IJzerman from Université Grenoble Alpes to find ways to use Embr Wave to bring warmth and connection during these exceptional circumstances. You can read more about the project here: Love in the times of COVID – help us support physically isolated people.
We hope that you stay safe and connected during these uncertain times, and remember to socially distance by staying home whenever possible. We'll get through this—together.