The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting more than just our physical health. It’s also taxing our mental health.
Quarantines and social distancing are keeping us apart — at a time when we most need to band together. What can you do to manage the emotional ramifications of isolation?
Why is Isolation So Difficult for Humans?
Because humans are social creatures, wired for connection, loneliness can be damaging to our mental and physical health.
Socially isolated people are less emotionally equipped to deal with stressful situations. Their immune system actually responds differently to fighting viruses, making them more likely to get sick than their connected counterparts.
Isolation can increase the risks of mental health issues such as depression, dementia, social anxiety, and low self-esteem. It can also limit the ability to process information, leading to issues with decision-making and memory.
Because isolation and mental health issues can also create a feedback loop where one influences the other, it’s critical to keep them in check.
6 Ways to Cope With Social Distancing
Fortunately, there are several ways to mitigate the impact of mandatory quarantines and social distancing:
1. Stay connected — The negative ramifications of isolation can be reversed by reconnecting with people. Be creative. Reach out to friends and family via FaceTime or Skype. Pick up the phone. Send a text or email to an old friend or distant cousin you haven’t seen in a while.
Look for creative ways to connect; while you might not be able to sit around the table with friends and play Scrabble, download the app and play by phone. Participate on websites like Goodreads, where you can share your reading experiences with other book lovers.
Attend an online event. Now, more than ever, people are hosting online classes and webinars. Many of these are interactive, allowing for opportunities to connect with like-minded people whose interests match yours.
2. Monitor your consumption of the news — Everyone digests news and information differently. Even if you’re not normally prone to anxiety, the spread of COVID-19 can feel overwhelming.
If you’re spending time alone, it’s easy to get caught up in the dire numbers and extreme nature of the situation. Figure out what works best for you. Watch or listen to the news in doses that feel manageable. Use social media in a way that feels right — for you.
3. Maintain healthy habits — Food fuels the body … and the mind. While you might not have easy access to the foods you normally eat to stay healthy, do the best you can to maintain nutritious food choices.
If your gym is closed, use this as an opportunity to mix up your routine. Take a walk or run outside. Find a virtual fitness class (which many yoga studios and health clubs are offering). YouTube and on-demand TV offer a variety of programs to follow from home.
Practice good sleep hygiene. Quality sleep improves brain functioning and emotional regulation.
4. Meditate — Meditating through times of emotional difficulty can help calm your sympathetic nervous system. Especially during times like these, meditation facilitates a deeper connection with yourself through your breath. In addition to helping quiet racing thoughts (“monkey mind”), it also reminds you to bring your awareness to the present moment.
5. Enjoy the “simple” pleasures — Our cultural emphasis on busyness is shifting. Use this downtime to slow the pace of life. Read a good novel. Listen to music. Go through old family photo albums or home movies. Spend time outdoors; soak up the beauty of nature and listen to the birds chirping.
6. Feel your feelings — The COVID-19 pandemic is releasing a flood of feelings in most people, from fear to anger to sadness to … compassion and gratitude. Don't be surprised if you find yourself on emotionally shaky ground. Let yourself feel your emotions, but recognize when it's time to reach out to a friend, family member or therapist for help.
Being alone doesn’t necessarily translate to loneliness. In fact, facing prolonged isolation can facilitate great personal — and even emotional — growth. Read that book you’ve been meaning to start. Learn a new skill. Work on your resume. Process your feelings through a creative outlet like music, painting or journaling.
You might find that you gain a greater perspective on life and feel closer to family and friends as a result of your experience. We’re all looking for the light at the end of this tunnel; do what you can to make yours shine even brighter.
You don’t have to go this alone.
*In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are now providing telemental health sessions.*
If you’re interested in learning more about individual psychotherapy, psychoanalysis or adolescent psychotherapy, please contact us by submitting this form, or by phone at 847-729-3034. We’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have.