Understanding Personal Space

What Does Personal Space Mean to You?

Everyone has their own idea of personal space. But how does it differ from that of others? And how can everyone better understand and respect boundaries when it comes to space? Personal space involves all the senses, not just touch, and most people have a certain distance they prefer to keep from others. When someone has invaded another’s personal space, it can be jarring and offensive.

Personal space has become more important than ever. But what is acceptable and what is not?

Space Boundaries

Actual physical distance helps keep people safe, healthy and comfortable in most every situation. But there are varying levels of acceptable distance.

There are several factors in determining a safe personal distance. If two people have known each other for a long time, they may feel different about being physically close to each other as opposed to being close to a stranger. Location is also critical: If someone grew up in a crowded city, they may have a different perspective on how close to another person they should be.

The Noise Factor

Noise can often be an unwelcome intrusion, and it comes from many environmental sources: a loud plane or automobile/motorcycle, construction work, landscaping, children playing, concerts or loud music. These are uncontrollable assaults on our senses, and studies have shown that chronic noise exposure may cause health problems, such as hearing loss, sleep disorders, stress and anxiety, and even heart conditions.

Some environmental noise pollution can be controlled. For example, not using a cell phone in theaters, doctors’ offices and other spaces where others are is one way to create a healthier, more harmonious environment. Lowering music when in public places, whether in the car or backyard, to accommodate others is another way to respect noise distance.

Common Scents

Personal space also relates to scents and odors in our environment. There are some we can control and others we cannot. Unpleasant odors from the environment abound — from industrial and sewage plants, automobile exhaust, garbage cans, etc. — and some can cause real health issues. But odors caused by not observing personal space can be prevented. Whether it’s someone on a plane or bus who whips out a particularly garlicky sandwich, an individual with personal hygiene issues, or even one who wears too much fragrance, these odors may disturb the senses and cause resentment, headaches or even a sick stomach. With the importance of personal hygiene at an all-time high, and guidelines posted just about everywhere, simple observance of one’s surroundings and following basic etiquette may help.

How to Handle Space Invasion

What can we do when we find that our personal space is being invaded? There are ways to politely encourage distance, like leaning away, taking a step back and explaining why the distance is important. 

Consider drawing an imaginary bubble or shield around yourself. This may be a practical way to maintain physical space, whether in the grocery store, where carts should help keep a comfortable distance from others while standing in line, or on the road, where following too closely behind another vehicle could result in an accident.

What About Personal Space at Home?

The more time families spend at home, the greater the need for boundaries and personal time and space. Creating a schedule to give everyone a little break from the togetherness may help! Whether it’s a quiet hour alone reading a book, a restorative nap, a workout or a walk, it’s important for everyone in the family to have a little “me time.”

Simple pleasures throughout the day — like lighting a fragrant candle, five minutes of meditation in a favorite chair, or taking a break from the computer monitor to gaze out the window — are small comforts to an overburdened schedule. Parents should never feel as though they are “selfish” or “bad parents” for taking a little time out. It may be an essential way to cope with a busy and oftentimes crowded household.

Whether it is physical space, noise or odors, the bottom line is that keeping a safe distance in public, in the workplace, or in crowds or gatherings is the best way to respect others and remain healthy.

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