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The science behind great relationships

Over the past few weeks, lockdown has imposed both physical and emotional distance between us and our loved ones. That’s all well and good for those of us who are well accustomed to the modern technology at hand, but it runs the risk of leaving the elderly feeling even more isolated. There was already a problem with loneliness among the elderly before COVID-19 — but now that social media is front and centre of the ways we communicate, there’s the possibility this problem will deepen with prolonged physical distancing.

Fortunately, there are other ways. We undertook a joint study with Dr Anna Machin — evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Oxford — to put our inklings to the test with a poll of more than 2,000 adults.

66% said a personalised card is the most thoughtful way to communicate feelings to a loved one.

Here’s more about what we learnt…

Dr Anna Machin, University of Oxford

1. 58% agree social media excludes older people

We’re seeing the effects of social distancing across generations. One of the most striking things from the survey is that social media has exposed a breakdown in intergenerational communication. Dr. Machin explains this is a cause for concern, “because we already have a problem with the elderly and loneliness in this country and we are now having a group of people who are even more isolated because they’re not part of that world.” Young people are finding it difficult too. “Social media only makes a difficult situation worse for many young people. Adults may have issues and hassle with working at home but for young people the foundation of their everyday world has changed — school and friends have all but gone and this will be very difficult for some young people.

As we saw in Hollie’s story, card sending has helped her stay in touch with her grandma, and provided both of them with a sense of connection. And for many people around the world, sending a card has kept their relationships tangible. Especially for inter family communication, letters and cards bridge the distance between both physically and their technology skills.

2. 66% said a personalised card means the most

Writing a card is therapeutic. In fact, almost half of respondents in our survey said the thought of writing a heartfelt letter or card made them feel happy. When we receive a letter or a card, brain activity is closer to what is happening when we interact with someone face-to-face, and there is a surge of chemicals like dopamine, which is linked with emotional responses, and oxytocin, a chemical messenger linked with social bonding. So, by showing you went that little bit further than sending a text, and giving them a part of you they can hold, has a positive effect on your mental health.

3. 29% said social media affected real connection

Dr. Machin explains that, ‘by using social media too much, we deny the brain the positive neurochemicals released through meaningful communication and that is why we begin to suffer.’ Continuing that, ‘sending a card allows us to remember things we’ve done with that person, sharing fond memories and, in doing so, you’re likely to be getting a big release of pleasurable neurochemicals.’ And in a time where we’re a little starved of these moments, card sending is a simple way to keep our spirits up and connect more meaningfully while we’re apart.

4. 50% say social media has had no positive impact on their mental health

As social media has infiltrated our daily lives, it’s become increasingly performative. Posting a picture online is no longer just a marker of a memorable day out, it’s an indicator of popularity. People are increasingly feeling anxious over engagement rates — all too often deleting a post if it doesn’t hit the required number of likes. This can harbour feelings of discontent, questioning ‘what did I do wrong?’ In the same vein, people’s online persona rarely reflects reality. If you follow accounts that are designed to project ‘the good life,’ it’s natural to question why your reality doesn’t align with these standards. This is where rebalancing needs to occur. By sharing something real, you’re taking away the performative nature of sharing a moment, making it a more personal connection between you and a loved one.

Read more about Dr Anna Machin

TouchNote / May 2020
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