Mental Health and Social Isolation During Stay Home, Stay Healthy
One of the most important ways we can slow the spread of COVID-19 is to stay home and physically distance ourselves from others. Unfortunately, this method of containing the spread of the virus has had some unintended consequences. Staying home and away from other people can increase feelings of social isolation. When isolation becomes loneliness, people are at an increased risk of many common diseases in modern society, including heart disease, cancer, stroke, dementia, and other chronic conditions. A reality of COVID-19 is that just when we need each other more, we’re being forced apart.
Combating social isolation and loneliness falls on all of our shoulders. If you are experiencing increased feelings of loneliness or despair, there are some things you can do to try to feel less alone. If you are concerned about a loved one, you can find ways to support those who are socially isolated, and help prevent feelings of loneliness from deepening.
How you can cope with loneliness while socially isolating:
- Establish a new schedule.
- COVID-19 has upended most of our lives. Our typical daily activities have been changed, or have been removed altogether. Schedules can be very important to our productivity and happiness. Create a new schedule for yourself that incorporates healthy activities, like eating well, exercising, and getting adequate sleep. Make time to treat yourself to activities you enjoy every day.
- Develop a plan to stay connected.
- Plan to have daily or weekly check-ins with friends, family or neighbors. It’s easy to say we’ll get in touch with someone, but having it planned for a specific time and day means that it is more likely to happen. Use these check-ins to catch up, but more importantly, to talk about your concerns and how you’re feeling with someone you trust.
- Take a break from the news.
- The 24-hour news cycle can increase anxiety. Give yourself a limit. Stick with what you need to know and what’s happening in your community, and make sure you get your news from trusted sources, such as the Washington State Department of Health or the CDC.
- Allow people to help you.
- Some people have a hard time accepting help, but it can be affirming for both people involved. We are living through a global pandemic, and this is an entirely new reality for most people. No one should feel like they need to go it alone right now. Both helping others and now allowing yourself to be helped ultimately strengthen your connection with others.
- Do something meaningful.
- One contributor to feelings of loneliness can be a loss of sense of meaning. If you are finding that you feel not just bored, but also that you are losing your sense of self, a loss of meaning might be affecting you. Try volunteering if you’re able, creating something, or connecting with an old friend may be ways to create meaning in your life. Ultimately, only you will know what is meaningful to you.
- Practice self compassion.
- If you find yourself saying things like "I shouldn’t be feeling this way" or pushing away difficult emotions, this will only make your loneliness persist. Instead of resisting your feelings, find ways to be accepting of them as coming and going. This helps to take away their power and ease your unhappiness.
If your feelings of loneliness continue to deepen, contact a mental healthcare professional. You can also contact SAMHSA’s Disaster Distress Helpline, which provides 24/7, 365-day-a-year crisis counseling and support to people experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human-caused disasters. Contact them at (800) 985-5990, text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a trained crisis counselor.
More mental health resources can be found on the Whatcom Unified Command website.
How you can help others who may be having feelings of loneliness
- If you are not sick, and are not in a high risk group, find out what volunteer opportunities are available in your area. Look for organizations that are serving people who cannot leave their homes right now, due to health or other concerns. You can check with the Whatcom Volunteer Center or your local food bank for some volunteer opportunities.
- Check in with friends, neighbors or relatives who may live alone.
- Call a friend or relative who lives alone and see how they’re doing, or ask a neighbor who lives alone if there is anything you can do, such as running an errand. Perhaps you can provide technical support for someone less tech savvy, to allow them to connect with others more easily. Small gestures can carry a lot of weight. Make sure the people in your life who live alone know that you care about them.
COVID-19 is testing the bonds that connect us. Physical distancing measures protect us from the worst effects of coronavirus, but the consequences can also be harmful. If we make the effort to stay connected, we can make a big difference to people who are feeling alone right now.