Release Date: March 25, 2020
BUFFALO, N.Y. – Social distancing helps to slow the spread of COVID-19, but people must also protect themselves from the mental health disorders strongly associated with social isolation, such as depression, anxiety, poor physical health and even suicide, according to a University at Buffalo social psychologist.
The solution? Indulge your guilty pleasures, says Shira Gabriel, associate professor of psychology in UB’s College of Arts and Sciences.
“As a social psychologist who studies the importance of social connections, I am gravely worried about what this social isolation might bring,” says Gabriel. “Luckily, there are easy and fun ways to keep connected and protect ourselves.”
Gabriel’s research suggests that many guilty pleasures may actually help people feel socially connected.
Decades of research suggests that human beings need social connections just as they need oxygen, food and water. Gabriel says this is likely because humans evolved as a species at a time when there were many dangers and the only way to survive was to band together and protect one another.
“We evolved to need one another and when that need isn’t filled we suffer,” she says, adding that we should “stop feeling guilty” and start engaging in the following activities:
Gabriel recognizes that people might be dubious about the effectiveness of these recommendations, but her research strongly supports their utility.
“The happiest, healthiest people incorporate symbolic social connections into their lives. Yes, they have ‘real’ friends and social connections, but they also have symbolic ones and the symbolic ones are often just as predictive of wellbeing and happiness,” Gabriel says.
“So my advice in this crazy and stressful time is to stop feeling guilty about guilty pleasures. Let yourself spend time on social media. Eat the foods that make you feel happy. Do silly and seemingly pointless things just because others are doing them. Watch TV whenever you want to.”
“And wash your hands a lot.”
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