Like it or not social isolation is a chapter in most people’s lives, which by it’s very nature can incite fear. We are tribal beings, born with a propensity to connect, so a rupture to this process contradicts our evolutionary development – no wonder we find it difficult to cope. Yet, another component of our evolution is our ability to adapt and decide on our mindset in response to our changing reality. Whilst acknowledging the great hardship and sadness of the current situation, we can still create meaning and growth. This is not to underrate the harrowing backdrop of the current situation, but rather to develop the life-long attitude of finding hope and opportunity in every situation. In these unfamiliar times, how best can we live?
When routine is anything but dull
Central to managing in the current climate of social isolation is scheduling your day, which may seem like a belaboured point but the reason for it is this – uncertainty and fear can leave us feeling overwhelmed. Putting structure in your day is something you can control, and will give you focus and ground you. Let your routines address your most basic needs as this will impact positively on both physical and mental health, so sleep soundly, get up as you normally would and get ready for the day, even if you’re not going anywhere – we’ve all seen the jokes on Facebook about swapping day pyjamas for night pyjamas, but never forget the effect of sprawling in joggers and nightwear on one’s spirit. Keep to regular mealtimes, take advantage of the current guidelines for one form of exercise a day and get in the outdoor light to support your body’s natural rhythms. Prioritise exercise to promote physical and emotional well being.
Create a day in which you achieve something and enjoy something
One thing we have some control over if we are socially isolated is how we spend our time. Many of us are working from home, but even if you are not, doing something which brings a sense of accomplishment will no doubt give you a psychological boost. Make the most of the morning for doing this and you can wear a smug smile for the rest of the day. Formulating goals or a vision for the day will give your mind a focal point. How many times do we lament not having time at home to re-design the house or pamper ourselves. Now is an uncommon time. Turn the house into a health spa if you want to, create glorious meals – this is another rediscovered pleasure for many, map out a course of reading you’ve always wanted to do, or take advantage of FutureLearn courses. The ensuing absorption can put you into a state of what Psychologist Csikszentmihalyi termed ‘flow’ in which our total engagement in a task changes our sense of time.
We were born to connect, and becoming isolated during this time will undoubtedly adversely effect us, so do all you can to keep in touch with people. If this had happened 50 years ago we wouldn’t have had such an array of technology from which to connect with others, but now we have such a range of tools we need never be isolated. As well as family and friends, there are also significant sources of help, groups and support networks that have been set up, so a little research to find the right avenues could make all the different to your state of mind. If you have the opportunity, volunteer! One of the reasons for camaraderie in war-time is that there is a sense of purpose, and a united effort to contribute to a common goal. Ideas for connection come in from everywhere. A post on Linkedin this week suggested going through our Linkedin mailbox, something we rarely get around to, so that we can answer messages and build our network.
Embrace emotional management
A colleague said to me last week, “Georgina, it’s OK to be sad”. Simple but consoling words. This is not a time for blind positivity or denial of the tragic events happening around us and to us, this is a time of great suffering for many people. Grief and sadness do not lend themselves to the kind of cognitive-restructuring we can use to manage other areas of our lives, rather they are experiential - the best way out is through. What can help is taking a position of gratitude for what we do have – this can help to lift mood and give us perspective. After all, if we are safely at home rather than being one of the ‘front-line’ staff, and if we have kept our health and loved ones, we are in a more privileged position than many.
Certainly, another emotional challenge for people could be loneliness. Sometimes we create busyness in our lives because we are afraid of being in our own heads, but circumstances are forcing us to face truth. What an opportunity for reflection. I have heard many people say already that they will not go back to the life they had before, a role they found unstimulating or too demanding, a toxic relationship or a tiring social schedule – these times are an important viewing point for considering your current situation and life goals. Whatever your emotional state, treat yourself with the same kindness and respect as you would for a loved one.
This too shall pass and when it does we will have a changed world. Never again will we take certain things for granted as we have in the past. Who would have believed on January 1st 2020 that by Easter we would be walking around in masks, a theme to continue for months and months. However, with a growing appreciation for what we have and will have again, we can embrace and make the best of each day.