Social Distancing vs. Physical Distancing? Why The Words We Use Matter

Samantha Feinman, Director, New Frontiers Executive Function Coaching

Kene Erike, Coach, New Frontiers Executive Function Coaching


Humans are social creatures. We thrive on social contact and relish interaction with others. These interpersonal experiences provide context for who we are, where we are going, and where we fit in relation to the world around us. Even in times of turbulence, social contact is a critical ingredient for a life well-lived.


The Coronavirus Pandemic has altered our daily existence. Schools, restaurants, businesses, houses of worship and most of our other community outlets for social contact have all been closed, pursuant to the “Social Distancing” requirement. Isolation and containment are mandatory and all but the most essential communal gathering places remain in hibernation.

Although authorities have our best interests in mind, the term “Social Distancing” is an inaccurate characterization of the COVID-19 containment plan. A psychological phenomenon is worth mentioning here….


Framing Effects: Our decisions are influenced by how a question is presented.


How terms are used can steer a population in the wrong direction. This is where critical thinking comes to the rescue.


"Social Distancing" is a misnomer: There is no directive to suspend relationships during the containment period. What's actually been prescribed is "Physical Distancing", maintaining a certain proximity from others to prevent the spread of Coronavirus. Defining terms eliminates confusion and promotes solidarity.


There is rarely a good time to be socially distant. Emotional support, a sympathetic ear, assistance with motivation and short-term tasks and long-term goals: You lose those when you divorce yourself from family, friends, and well-wishers. Whether it’s face to face, over the phone, or digital, preserving connections with your community is essential for your mental health. So, how can we not only maintain, but maybe even enhance our relationships with others while following the Coronavirus mandates?


Grow closer (while you’re further apart).

Ironically, this period of physical distancing is an opportune time to get closer to those you care about. People long for attention and contact. If you're the one delivering it, and we challenge you to do so, expect to be welcomed with open (virtual) arms. Use this physical isolation time to grow closer to the people you care about. Or form new bonds with people that might pay dividends in the future. There are many ways to accomplish this, and you don't need to be tech savvy to engage in these activities either. Virtual chats are wonderful, but a phone call, text message, or letter can also go a long way. Some thoughtfulness, empathy, and a kind message will suffice and can make a world of difference in these times of social need. Social connections are a valued ally in times of uncertainty: This is a great season for remembering that.

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