The pandemic of loneliness - alleviate the stressors of social isolation!
In recent years, much has been written about loneliness in modern age people, in particular amongst the younger and the elder generations. Scientists agree that loneliness can have severe consequences for one’s physical and mental health to the point of even shortening one’s expected lifespan. In Denmark and many other countries, millions of people have been sent home and asked to “be together apart”. Some are with their family and partners, but many are also facing the crisis on their own.
Admittedly, in Denmark we are only a couple of weeks in, but this kind of social isolation can have serious consequences for our wellbeing; in particular as we haven’t got an end date attached to the crisis.
The esteemed medical journal The Lancet has published a study based on reviewing more than 3000 studies on possible psychological consequences of being in quarantine. British scientists have chosen to sum up the 24 most relevant studies which suggest that social isolation can lead to symptoms of infection fears, depression, insomnia, confusion, anger, frustration, financial concerns, fear of inadequate supplies and information, as well as emotional burnout, misuse of alcohol and drugs, suicide, and PSTD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
As such, involuntary restriction of our freedom in combination with fearing infection can cause havoc to our mental health. In Denmark, we are still able to venture out on walks and brief, clearly regulated rounds of shopping, but over time that is hardly enough to keep us mentally sound if we have limited access to human contact.
Though families and couples may find it challenging to be around each other for hours, days, weeks … perhaps even months (let’s hope not!) on end, it’s a different kettle of fish for singles who may find themselves increasingly lonely as the weeks go by.
What can you do to minimise the consequences the current lockdown may have on your mental health?
Manage your anxiety and fear by keeping to a routine. A fixed schedule promotes a sense of normality and ensures you have an anchor to fall back onto. Make sure there is a difference between weekdays and the weekend. Read this blog post for more on managing fear and anxiety
If you experience a bout of anxiety, fear or panic, breathe! Ground yourself. Feel the ground under your feet, and breathe. Notice how you are solidly planted in the ground. Then focus on the outbreath - don’t force it, just go with it when it comes. Inhalation will follow automatically. There are several apps useful for learning breathing techniques; I like headspace with offers a free of charge section.
Consider what you would like to gain from this period if you are healthy and well. Although a tremendously challenging time for many, it may be an opportunity to start a project or a hobby you have been longing to but haven’t had the time nor the energy for. This way, you can turn a difficult situation around to also have a positive element to it.
Accept your vulnerability to social isolation. It’s important to acknowledge the need for social interaction. Many of us are fortunate to be able to speak to and even see friends, family and other loved ones via our electronic gadgets. Use them! Scroll through your contacts and reach out.
Have check-in-buddies: Set up arrangements with friends where you check in on each other every day. Be prepared that some days, you won’t have much to talk about, but it’s still nice to hear a voice and/or see a face. Talk about everyday matters such as your routine, books you have read, music you have listened to, food you have cooked etc.
Do what you used to but do it online: Have dinner with a friend, play a game, watch a film together.
When out for a walk or shopping, smile and say hello to strangers. We are all in this together and most will appreciate even a little human contact.
Ask your neighbours if they need help with the shopping.
Exercise, eat well, sleep and rest enough.
Practice being in the now. If you are not ill from the corona, appreciate your good health in the now and try to refrain from worrying too much about tomorrow. Keep following the given guidelines.
If you have a friend who lives on their own, make sure you reach out to them - it may be harder for them to ask you for your time than you theirs!