For the last 2 and a bit years the public health messaging has gone something along the lines of “stay at home” “outside is dangerous” “other people are dangerous” “stay away from people”……..
And in our millions, we’ve stayed at home and stayed away from people. I do it now, when I walk past someone in the street, I still give them a wide berth and if anyone gets really close to me in any queue of venue, I can feel my anxiety increasing. Crowded spaces never used to bother me. I’m currently working on reducing my anxiety with a bit of exposure therapy! And all this staying at home and staying away from people has led to chronic loneliness and isolation. And a real lack of hugging.
There is lots of science around the benefits of hugging, of holding someone close for more than a few seconds and our heartrate goes down and we feel better.
Humans are supposed to live collectively, to share skills and co-operate, there are millions of years of evolution that has brought us to this point in our history. We are supposed to be with each other and to work together.
So we will all have to do our own version of exposure therapy and get used to being with each other again. To get used to being out and about. And we will have to learn that “out there” is not as scary as we thought, that other people are not only not scary, but necessary for our wellbeing and survival. That watching other people smile is infectious and will make us smile. I sat this week and chatted to a client and there were some subjects on which his face would light up. It was a joy to watch, his joy brought me joy.
As we stumble through the next few weeks, months and years, we will each have to learn that other people will have different tolerances from each other. Some people still prefer to wear masks, others prefer not to. We will have to learn to respect the boundaries of others and we individually and collectively adjust to the next phase or phases of our lives. We will all be going through a version of exposure therapy as we navigate this next period.
This is true for people with dementia, they are people, just like the rest of us, they have lived in isolation and now, although they might be cautious, they will begin the process of getting used to being around people again.
And as we navigate this, hopefully we will have collectively learnt the lessons, that we need to be around people and move away from the loneliness and isolation of the last couple of years.
I, for one am looking forward to hugging again. Bring it on….