The spread of the coronavirus and its resulting mandates of stay-at-home and social distancing have turned the world upside down. Seemingly overnight, we’ve had to change how we work, how we connect with family and friends, and even how we engage with our communities. Social isolation, while not new, is now being practiced more stringently than almost any time in history. No one was prepared for the degree of isolation that would be required or how it would feel. It’s a lonely time, especially for singles. With at least some social distancing measures expected to be in place for months to come, how do you stay connected when everything around you is disconnected?
While these measures are necessary, they are not without consequence. The effects of social isolation and loneliness are well-known. Decades of research has found that social isolation and associated feelings of loneliness have a considerable impact on one’s state of well-being. Social isolation has been linked to:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Immune functioning
- Poor sleep
- Levels of daily functioning
As Clifford Singer, M.D. puts it, “We are a social species. Our social networks (families, tribes, communities, etc.) enabled us to survive and thrive.”
The loneliness that results from isolation can be intense and emotionally distressing for many people. A 2017 study in Public Health found a significant linkage between social isolation and loneliness and mental health. With the extended stay-at-home mandates and likely distancing practices to remain for some time, it’s more important than ever to take care of your health and find ways to manage this new way of living.
While the world awaits the green light to reopen, what can we do to combat the loneliness and isolation so that we emerge back into the world healthy and ready to embrace the new normal?
It’s easy to be lulled into sleeping in, laying on the sofa and letting time pass. It can feel like this isolation will never end. The fact is, it will end.
Make a decision to live mindfully. Rise each day with a plan and a purpose. What are you going to do today? What needs to be done? What can you plan for when you’re confined to your space?
- Plan your daily routine
- Schedule your work appointments
- Schedule meal times
- Make time for movement or exercise
- Schedule time to connect with others via phone or video chat
Having a schedule or plan makes the time pass but it also keeps you focused in the present and moving forward. Having things to do helps you to feel productive and proactive.
Maintain Important Social Connections
Right now, we can’t simply meet for coffee or dinner in most places. We are having to find new ways of connection. And it is important to find those ways of staying in touch. Regular interaction with others is critical to our well-being. These interactions bring us closer emotionally and remind us that there are people who love and care for us as we do them. Schedule time for reaching out in whatever way is most comfortable or available. And, you can be creative.
- Schedule a video chat with friends and loved ones. There are lots of platforms to choose from: Skype, Zoom, Facetime and more. Most are easy to use and many are free.
- Call your friends and loved ones.
- Text or email to check in on each other
- Post on each other’s social media
- Schedule group chats and have virtual family/friend game nights
- Send a postcard or letter (the charm of sweet notes is never lost)
Being able to interact with those we love and care for, even if we can’t physically be present, helps to remind us that we are not alone and we will get through together.
You probably have a hobby or interest that has fallen by the wayside. There was a time when you could do it for hours. You’ve thought of reviving it often but never seem to have the time. Why not now? Maybe there’s an unfinished book hiding in a box in the back of the closet. Maybe you used to paint but then your career took off. Maybe you’ve always wanted to try crafting.
With so much seriousness in the world, why not allow yourself to be swept away for a bit and let your inner creative take over? It’s ok to take a break now and then.
The creative process is meditative and has stress-reducing qualities. It’s fun and allows you to let go of distractions.
Even if you don’t have a particular hobby or craft, you can still embrace your inner creative.
- Color – adult coloring has become quite popular because it is relaxing and light-hearted. There are tons of free coloring pages online or you can purchase a coloring book on sites like Amazon.
- Start a journal. All you need is a notebook or some paper, a pen and a quiet spot. Write about whatever you’re thinking or feeling. The act of journaling is soothing and thought-provoking.
- DIY projects – maybe you’ve had your eye on a DIY project just waiting for the time to do it. Maybe now is that time. Many stores are delivering to home so you can get supplies and maintain your social distancing.
Focus On Finding Meaning
Meaningful things are those that serve a purpose in some way. Engaging in activities that matter to you is a powerful alternative to loneliness and bolsters your sense of identity and purpose.
What is meaningful for you is quite personal. It might be volunteering time to a favorite organization. It might be taking an online course to learn a new skill or helping a loved one in some way. Whatever it is, choosing to engage in something meaningful helps keep loneliness at bay and gives you a sense of contribution and accomplishment. Here are a few ideas:
- Volunteer to foster a pet if you have the means to do so
- Sew masks for healthcare workers and first responders
- Make cards for nursing home residents
- Take an online class you’ve wanted to take
- Document those family stories your family’s elders love to tell.
- Help pack or distribute food boxes for the food bank
- Host a virtual peer support group with friends
Of course, what you will be able to do will depend on what the restrictions are for your area, your risk profile and level of comfort.
Practice Good Self-Care
Of all the things you can do to take care of yourself during this time, probably none is more powerful than self-care. With access to places where we would normally find care or just some solace, we have to be sure we are being mindful of our own health and wellness.
Self-care is more than just keeping health appointments or getting exercise although those things are important. Self-care is about doing things each day that support us physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. What that looks like for you is as unique as you are. Here are a few ideas:
- Get good sleep. 7-9 hours is the standard recommendation. Good sleep helps you to feel energized and refreshed. Sleep is also important for a healthy immune system.
- Eat a balanced diet. You’ve heard about the “Quarantine 15”. Boredom and stress can trigger over-indulgence on comfort foods. Eat mindfully.
- Practice relaxation strategies. Whether it’s stretching, walking, meditating or something else. It’s important to turn down the stress and let your mind and body relax.
- Maintain your oral health. This may sound like a no-brainer but in many places, dental offices are closed for routine care. Do what you can to maintain your oral health until you can resume your check-ups.
- Get fresh air and sunshine each day if allowable in your area. A little fresh air and sunshine is a powerful mood booster.
- Get some movement each day. Gyms are closed but you can still move. Take a walk, do an exercise video or online yoga class. Movement stimulates those “feel good” endorphins and helps manage stress.
- Talk it out. Find people to talk to about what you’re feeling and how you’re doing. Keeping it all inside can increase feelings of loneliness and isolation. Let others support you.
This is an unprecedented time in our lives and there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. If you find that you’re feeling more than just a little lonely or struggling to get through your day, there is help!
The therapists at Therapy24x7 are experts in helping people navigate through difficult times. They can help you to understand the feelings you’re experiencing and find ways to cope in healthy, productive ways.
Online appointments are available now. With three locations to serve you, we offer therapeutic services that are affordable and accessible with appointment times to fit almost any schedule. All offices are accepting new patients and offer flexible, online appointment scheduling. There is no need to struggle alone. Our expertly-trained therapists are here to help. Reach out to the Therapy24x7 team today to schedule your consultation.