Coping with isolation and loneliness was something many of us were trying to do before Coronavirus (Covid-19) turned our reality upside down. Over 9 million people in the UK reported feelings of loneliness and isolation before this new reality emerged.
From a psychological perspective, it is possible to view most periods of change as both a challenge and an opportunity. It is not, however, immediately obvious how the current social isolation might present an opportunity. Understanding why isolation can have such a negative impact on our mental health represents the first step towards coping with loneliness.
What happens when we are isolated from other people?
Humans are a social species, evolved for constant daily contact with others. As a result, social isolation is very difficult to deal with. In prisons, solitary confinement is still considered to be the harshest punishment.
Therefore, being alone for most of us is very hard to cope with.
Coping with isolation by focusing on the opportunities it brings
A period of seclusion does offer the opportunity for self-development. Instead of focusing on what we cannot do right now, it is a chance to see what we can do and how to productively fill our time.
Regardless of whether isolation feels like a positive time of peace or a frightening battle, there are ways we can help ourselves and our families cope with isolation. Here are a few simple, practical steps we can all take:
Coping with isolation: create a daily routine
Get up at the same time each day and go to bed at the same time. Avoid the temptation to stay up late and sleep in. Try to prepare and eat healthy meals at regular times rather than snacking. Avoiding overindulgence in food and alcohol is also advisable.
Get dressed as normal
While it can be tempting, and even enjoyable initially, during isolation to relax and ‘slob about’ in casual clothing, taking care of ourselves keeps us busy and helps create a sense of structure and dignity. For example, if you are able to work from home, dress as if you were heading to the office.
Keep calm and tidy up
Keeping your house or flat neat and tidy is important during isolation. It keeps us busy, offers a sense of satisfaction at completing tasks for the day. This is particularly important if you are furloughed from work and are spending much more time at home than usual.
Coping with isolation: get some exercise
If possible, make use of the currently permitted one form of exercise a day to get some time out of the house. Although we are social distancing it can help to see a friendly face on the streets and have the feeling of being ‘in this together’. In general, exercise helps with our feelings of emotional wellbeing. If you are unable to exercise then other activities can be beneficial: from meditation and yoga to reading and crafting.
Social distancing does not mean no social contact
Although we are alone, we can still contact others by picking up the phone or talking face to face via Skype, FaceTime, Zoom or other platforms. Sharing experiences or just having a friendly chat can help to put things in perspective and alleviate feelings of loneliness.
Consider helping others
If you feel able to, volunteering to help vulnerable neighbours with shopping or collecting prescriptions can help you to feel more active and involved in your community. It can also provide a sense of purpose and satisfaction each day.
Remember the bigger picture
While constant bad news about the Coronavirus can feel overwhelming it is important to remember that this situation will not last forever. All across the world, intelligent and highly skilled scientists are working to develop solutions. Lockdown and social distancing measures are having an impact in reducing the spread of the virus and allowing scientists more time to come up with things like vaccines.
Struggling with isolation? Ask for help
Lastly, and very importantly, ask for help. If you feel you are being overwhelmed with feelings of loneliness, anxiety or depression during or after this period of isolation, do not be afraid to ask for help from friends, family and groups who have expertise in mental health.
Coping with isolation through counselling
The Spark provides telephone and online video counselling services for adults, couples, children and young people. These services have been extended to support more people with more online and telephone counsellors available than ever before.
Sarah Woodcock (MBACP)
Counsellor at The Spark Counselling
Sarah is a member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) and a practitioner member of Counselling and Psychotherapy in Scotland (COSCA). As a counsellor with The Spark, Sarah works across a wide range of client groups. Her research interests include trauma, mentalisation and attachment injury.