Coping with Social Isolation – Shepherd Express

Feeling a tad claustrophobic? Being quarantined, social distancing and sheltering in place diminish control over ones external circumstances, fueling a cascade of emotional and interpersonal stressors that undermine well-being, tax relationships and test personal resilience.

Common reactions to the social isolation caused by COVID-19 include restlessness or outright agitation, disturbed sleep, anxiety, anger, boredom, irritability, loneliness and cabin fever, among others. What to do? First off, remember were all in this together. Next, embrace strategies proven to support coping in the face of imposed separation from others.

Adopt a new schedule: Having a regular schedule of activities creates structure and purpose. When ones usual routine is disrupted, adopting a new one proves reassuring. Studies show that predictable routines lower anxiety.

Create a diary: Talking out loud or writing about things we find disturbing alleviates stress. Creating an audio, video or written diary helps us tell our personal stories about this difficult and painful odyssey. Each of us has a unique tale to tell, and a diary is one way to feel heard and validated.

Tackle projects: If you have work-related or personal projects on the back burner, you can use this hiatus to catch up. Doing something productive increases our feelings of personal power, restoring the sense of control this pandemic erodes.

Play games: Video games and old-fashioned board games help pass the time. Using both types offers variety, which helps keep the mind engaged and interested. Also, sharing gaming with others, whether in person or online, reduces feelings of isolation.

Go outside: Immersion in nature provides an immediate, positive impact on your mood. As little as ten minutes outside increases serotonin and dopamine in the brain, both feel good neurochemicals. Also, nature immersion broadens mental perspective, pushing back against that walls-closing-in feeling social isolation generates.

Learn: This situation provides an opportunity, albeit unwelcome, to start learning a second language, try a new hobby, take an online course, watch TED talks (ted.com), or give brain games a try. New learning wakes up the mind, helping us engage with the present moment, rather than worrying about whats coming next.

Exercise: Even short bursts of exercise positively impact mood. Studies show, when depressed or anxious, exercise can prove more beneficial than medications, such as antidepressants. Even simple physical activities, such as calisthenics, stretching, climbing stairs, push-ups, jogging in place, and taking a walk outside, put us in a better mood.

Eat healthy: Food is a drug, one directly impacting ones emotional state. While comforting at first, sweets and junk food eventually worsen anxiety, depression and moodiness. Do your best to avoid highly processed foods and sugar. Increase your intake of fruits, vegetables, lean protein and complex carbs. When it comes to alcohol, small amounts may take the edge off, but too much undermines well-being.

Sleep: When we fail to get enough restful repose, both emotional balance and mental functioning suffer. Extinguish or dim all light sources in your bedroom. Avoid screen time an hour before going to sleep. If you have trouble falling asleep, try the eyes-wide-open technique. Most of us just lie there with eyes closed, hoping we will drift off. Instead, try to force your eyes to stay wide open as long as possible. It sounds counter-intuitive, but often works.

Connect: Even before the pandemic, a Harris poll found almost 70% of Americans reported feeling lonely with surprising frequency. Social isolation exacerbates the issue, particularly for the elderly. Ramp up your interactions with others, whether by phone, digitally or via snail mail. Now, more than ever, we need each other.

There are no panaceas for addressing social isolation. However, when we take steps to manage our mood, interactions and well-being, we experience a greater sense of control not over what is going on around us, but over what is going on inside us. As famed psychoanalyst Viktor Frankl told us: When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. Thats a big challenge, but not an insurmountable one.

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Coping with Social Isolation - Shepherd Express

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