Human beings have an innate need to connect and it is only natural to feel isolated and lonely as your routine is disrupted and you are told to practice social distancing or self-isolation.
I personally don’t like the terms “social distancing” and “self-isolation”. I much prefer to call it “physical distancing” and “Physical isolation”.
The last thing you want to do right now is “socially isolate”. It is so important to keep social connections and you can do this over the phone or various internet applications.
Feeling lonely and isolated can have serious consequences for your physical and mental health. You may experience increased levels of anxiety, stress, and depression. Being out of your normal routine and spending more time by yourself often leads to unhelpful thoughts and ruminations around the situation you find yourself in.
Most people believe that it is their circumstances that make them feel a certain way. If that was true, then everyone in the same circumstances would feel the exact same way. But that is clearly not the case. As you see in this cartoon, two people going on a roller coaster ride, one is terrified and the other is excited. They are clearly in the same situation, but they both interpret the situation differently. Circumstances are neutral, and only you can give meaning to circumstances by how you think and interpret them.
To help you reduce your levels of anxiety, stress, loneliness, and depression, you can take a number of steps.
The first step, and maybe the most difficult one, is to explore what goes through your mind, how are you interpreting your circumstances, at the time when you feel anxious, lonely, stressed or depressed. At this time it might bs worry about the future, your loved ones or your health. During my work as a Psychotherapist, I show my clients how their thoughts are connected to how they feel and help them explore alternative ways to think about their circumstances.
For example, I help them understand that there are 2 different types of worry –
- Worrying about problems that need solutions right now and we can implement a plan to solve the problem.
- worrying about hypothetical problems, or ‘what if….’ problems, imagining worst case scenarios and catastrophising about things that are totally out of your control.
This will help you understand that there are situations that are out of your control and thinking about them constantly will not change the situation, but rather increase your feelings of isolation, fear and loneliness.
On the other hand, knowing that there are some problems that you can solve, gives you a sense of control. You can start focusing your attention towards making plans for activities which will help you feel better.
Checking in with your thoughts and recognizing unhelpful thinking is one of the steps you can take to change how you feel.
The second step is to start planning activities that you enjoy into your day. You might think about activities you used to enjoy before life got too busy. Maybe you used to knit, grow vegetables or do jigsaw puzzles, but haven’t done it for years? Take the time to try new recipes and cook with your family if you can. You also might look into how to connect with people through the internet. There are ever increasing tools available, like Zoom, Skype, Facetime WhatsApp and others. If you have never used any of them before, maybe it’s a great opportunity now for you to learn about it.
Letting go of unhelpful thoughts, engaging in new activities and creating a new routine for yourself will very soon help you to feel better. You may not get rid of feeling, anxious, lonely and isolated completely, but that is OK. We are often so afraid of our feelings and don’t want to experience them, but once you accept your feelings and connect them to what is going through your mind at that time, you will find that its ok, feelings come, and they go again. They don’t stay with you all the time. This too will pass.
It is enough to ride this period out, live true to your values and give yourself permission to do just be!