It seems to be happening more and more. That person behind you in line who’s just a little too close – feeling packed into trains and planes with almost no elbow room. Our personal space is beginning to feel under attack! But we spoke with an expert who says not to worry. Dr. Michelle Shiota, a psychology professor at ASU, shares three ways to reclaim your personal space.
1. People Aren't Crowding You Intentionally
First up, understand that space invaders in the grocery store line probably aren’t crowding you on purpose. “We spend more and more time engaged with what's going on in our head, and the list of things that we have to get done, rather than our immediate physical environment,” says Dr. Shiota. “It's easy to wind up breathing down the neck of someone in front of you.”
So what’s the best way to get someone to ease off? “Sometimes a little graceful hey, back up for just a second is ok,” suggest the professor. “Treating the situation with kindness and humor can be really helpful at diffusing the situation and communicating your space needs.” A little kindness goes a long way!
2. Personal Space is a Product of Our Environment
Next up, our upbringing shapes our personal space needs. “If you grew up in a very dense environment,” explains Dr. Shiota, “your sense of the personal space that you need is naturally going to be smaller.” Can this also include how many how siblings you grew up with? “Absolutely!” exclaims the professor. “That local environment shapes our sense of what personal space is supposed to look like.” Interesting, eh?
3. Our Digital Space is Also Being Invaded
Finally, personal space isn't just physical; our "attentional" space is under a digital attack. “I find that I have enough things trying to demand my attention,” shares Dr. Shiota. “I don't want my phone to be another one of those things.” The professor’s advice is simple: turn off the notifications on your phone. Our brains weren't designed for 24/7 updates! “We're not used to having to jump attention like this constantly. It's draining for us to do that.” Couldn’t agree more!
Whether you live in a small town or big city, your personal space is rapidly shrinking. But now you’ve learned how to keep those space invaders at bay!
To learn more about how close is too close, check out this TheSpruce.com’s guide on defining personal space!