Mental health professionals know social isolation and loneliness aren’t just inconveniences we suffer in our communal effort to adhere to mandated social distance due to the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Pandemic. Loneliness can be deadly.
Finding healthy ways to cope with social isolation and loneliness therefore is a great concern. There’s a life lesson in this for us all, take being socially connected seriously.
A feeling of being alone could happen even in the company of others, it is a subjective experience. Studies on loneliness have consistently shown loneliness is associated with decreased quality of life and increased risk of premature death.
For some, introverts in particular, social isolation can initially be a refreshing experience. For others, the experience can be a frightening, even deadly, experience.
Some people were born ready so to speak, having survived incredibly horrific childhood experiences and white knuckled their lives into a successful adulthood. They find a way of simply finding a pace within the storms of life to make it through. These adults are able to find calm in the middle of a crisis, landing on their feet.
Others may find the social silence too loud to bear. The sudden change of pace of life causing them to falter, stumble and fall into the pits of depression and despair. People who have life problems such as Domestic Violence or mental health conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Major Depression, Anxiety, or Addictions, may find daily life hard to handle. Risk of decline in functioning and increased risk of harm is high for these groups. Fortunately, there are crisis lines open for support. The National Alliance on Mental Illness has a text line open 24/7 text NAMI to 741741. Suicide and crisis lines are also open nationwide 1-800-273-8255.
For all, there are effective coping strategies that, when used offer hope of thriving through our communal crisis.
Get involved! Be part of the solution. Getting involved with a purpose driven cause can push away feelings of loneliness that can pop up during social isolation. Your neighbors are organizing a virtual dinner, help out and participate. If you find out someone needs essentials and you have some to spare, donate and stave off loneliness by connecting with others.
Sunlight exposure – open the curtains and blinds, or better yet sit outside, skip the hugs but not the southern wave hello. Allow children study time outside if weather permits and social distance can be maintained.
Sleep regulation – be careful about late nights and if feeling unrefreshed upon waking take changes to sleep seriously. Give yourself a few days to get back on track, but if sleep problems persist make a telehealth appointment with your healthcare provider. Many providers are available by way of telehealth, check your insurance customer service line.
Connect virtually – FaceTime with friends. Call the people you love but can’t see in person. Even hearing the voice of someone who cares about you causes a release of Oxytocin, commonly known as the love hormone. This hormone has a healing effect, binding to receptor sites on the heart to combat the adverse effects of stress.
Optimism – Maintain a sense of hope and optimism. An optimistic point of view is associated with improved immune function and survival.
Stay Physically Active – Go old school PE, try jumping jacks, sit ups, planks, squats, push-ups at home. Use YouTube for virtual workouts. For fun make a workout date with friends and meet up by video for a group exercise event.
Dr. Monique Thompson, DHA, LPC, LPC-S