Dealing with social isolation
Updated: Apr 1
Let's face it: social isolation is an inevitable part of the current social distancing obligation we're all under right now. We want to be responsible citizens and protect ourselves and others from pandemic. However, that entails being away from friends and sometimes family. We all have to sit inside and wait out the storm, but we don't know for how long this will last. The seemingly endless wait, the expectation of things to come back to normal and the fact that many of us are going through all of this alone is awful. So how do we deal with all of this?
First, it's important to differentiate between what is normal and what isn't during this time. This starts with the understanding that we are in an outstanding situation. This means that the usual idea of what's normal and what isn't no longer applies. In times of crisis, it's NORMAL to:
- Feel anxious and alone
- Feel like the usual difficulties are harder to handle and deal with
- Feel like you can't recognize your life or even yourself anymore
We're getting these feelings now because of the sudden change in our everyday life. Our entire day has completely changed. The workday no longer looks the same, our activities have changed, how we used to do things sometimes no longer applies, etc. A forced change such as this brings on many feelings of sadness, frustration, confusion and anxiety.
Some people can handle this easily, others feel terrible distress. That's because people are simply different. Their life experiences are different, their habits are different, and their genetic makeup and personalities are different. This doesn't mean that the people breezing through it have some kind of superpower or that those having difficulty are somehow broken. Remember, the usual rules for what's normal and what isn't no longer apply, and now more than ever you cannot compare how you're doing to how anyone else is doing. Now is the time to accept that however you are feeling, it is perfectly normal.
So now that you know it's normal and okay to feel what you feel. It's time to see how you can tackle the impact social distancing is having on us. And you can do that in two different ways: you can enjoy the company of others and work on enjoying the company of yourself.
Let's start with the social part. Since the rules on social distancing and the duration of these rules apply differently wherever you are, it might be a good idea to start thinking about how you can join someone else during this time. Maybe you can join family or your significant other if you're living apart. Having someone else in the household instead of being alone in the house is already a big improvement. If you can't do that, then try to join at least one person per day via online video calls or over the phone. Have someone you can talk to everyday so you can have a minimal amount of human contact daily. You can even think of new ways to experience social gatherings, like a big conference call with several friends over dinner or for coffee from the comfort of your home. We live in a day and age when this is perfectly possible, so think about new ways you can be in genuine contact with others and do them.
So let's move onto the other way you can combat the impact of social isolation: enjoying your own company. Yes, this is possible no matter what you think of yourself. Why? Because you are about to embark on a journey of self-discovery. You now have the entire day at home, meaning there are no commutes or miscellaneous outdoor obligations. So if you're going to sit alone all day, you might as well get to know yourself. Start doing some mindfulness meditation to learn to watch your thoughts with serenity and without judgement. Start a journal so you can see what you are thinking about on paper. When you do that, you can then answer the following questions:
- How do you talk to yourself?
- What kind of thoughts do you have?
- How do they make you feel?
- What can you think/say differently so you're more pleasant to yourself?
- If your friend was thinking/saying these things, what would you tell them to make it better?
Answering these questions not only help you get to know yourself, but they also shed light on how your self-talk can affect you and what mindset you can have instead to soothe yourself or reassure yourself. That can help you learn a valuable skill to have during difficult times. The most important part in how you answer, however, is answering without any judgement towards yourself. Only have kindness and compassion in mind, so you can stay focused on enjoying your own company instead of turning this into a self-roast.
Other things you can do are solitary activities that can help you feel good about yourself like learning something new, exercising, honing a skill, and generally picking up something you've been putting off because you didn't have time for it before. These things help pass the time while having you do something that stimulates the mind and gives you a feeling of accomplishment. That's definitely something you'd want to start doing now more than ever.
Finally, a word of advice on what I think you may want to avoid. First, there's nothing wrong with the occasional binge-watch or "wasted" day. I don't think there's anything wrong with doing whatever you want just because you want to. If anything, it could be the much-needed remedy to a difficult time. However, I cannot advise you do this all day everyday. Doing a mindless activity like scrolling through social media or watching series or YouTube videos all day only serves to enhance your feelings of loneliness and distress, especially if you're doing that to try to escape the negative feelings you feel. That is because the way emotions work is that if you try to numb them, they come back with more force.
Emotions are how our brain and body signal to us that something needs to change or that things are going well. The only way to "turn off" that signal when it's howling inside you is to listen to it, process it, and let it go. This is why ignoring it makes it get louder. You need to acknowledge the signal, figure out what you want to do about it and take action to satisfy what your brain and body need in a healthy way. Therefore, get off social media and meditate. Feeling cranky and out of energy? Exercise. The solutions to how you are feeling are more straightforward that you think, so take simple actions and watch yourself feel better.
Hopefully this article helps you deal with your social distancing troubles. If you feel like you're stuck or unsure how to proceed, or your feelings are overwhelming you, do not hesitate to take an appointment. The first one is free so feel free to book, it might be the jump start that you need to get yourself together and thrive in this crisis.