The Coronavirus, or COVID-19, has come crashing down on us in the U.S. like an elephant sitting on your chest. Sick or not-sick-yet seems to be the prevailing angst of the nation, while thousands on the front lines struggle to arrest the tsunami impact of the deadly viral infection or serve those who limp along in socially-distanced lives. I'm on Day 10 of remaining sheltered-in-place in my home, except for one trip to the grocery store and daily (except when raining) walks or jogs, or dog walks around the neighborhood. Meanwhile, my life patterns haven't changed that much: I work from home as a consultant and coach, and the business marketing classes I teach at two local universities have simply moved online. The biggest change for me has been to spend even more time and attention at my desk and computer or phone, so the daily walks are a welcome respite—even if I don't have anywhere else to go right now. Yesterday, I heard loud music and laughter while out on one of these walks, and stared in wonderment when three teenage girls whizzed by happy as a lark and singing at the top of their lungs, driving a golf cart. I didn't have my cell phone camera with me at the time, or I would have snapped a picture of them, or asked them to slow down or stop, and pose. The stock image I have posted here does not look much different than they did. (Watermarks on photo, for now, sorry.) Anyway, the reason for my post today is to share a few words about how some folks are struggling with the mandate to relax, stay home, disrupt your hamster wheel life...be in the zone. And how others are as happy as clams. Social isolation is a real condition. Even without a pandemic to drive it. Contributing factors of social isolation—with or without government-ordered social distancing to protect public health—are many and are real. Some of the feelings that can stem from the separation can be lonelines, fear and mistrust of others, low self esteem, false bravado, anxiety, depression, conflict with others, and more.
Circumstances that contribute to social isolation can include family or health issues where a person has a tendency to isolate themselves to avoid social interaction out of fear that they would be judged or stigmatized. A family crisis, the loss of a spouse, losing a job...all can contribute to the lack of a support network or feeling lonely and depressed. Transportation problems, cognitive or physical impairments related to aging, and simply living alone can exacerbate normal human tendencies to be around other people or to engage in social interactions. To be clear, loneliness is NOT synonymous with chosen isolation or solitude. Rather, loneliness is defined by people's levels of satisfaction with their connectedness, or their perceived social isolation. Okay, that's probably worth a pull quote, I'll say it again: "Loneliness is NOT synonymous with chosen isolation or solitude. Rather, loneliness is defined by people's levels of satisfaction with their connectedness, or their perceived social isolation." So, what's the antidote? Who or what can help? Lacking encouragement from family or friends, those who are lonely may slide into unhealthy habits. Or, worse, become anxious or depressed. Depending on your state of mind, and willingness or ability to change, certain evidence-based interventions can help. Yes, they are interventions. And, like any intervention, the person who is experiencing the dysfunction or dissatisfaction must be open to help. And the work it requires to change. Even the most introverted among us (and I count myself in that group) must seek out connections, healthy interactions, and community-building opportunities to stay healthy. Feelings of marginalization, and ingrained patterns of negative self-talk, are particularly unhelpful. During times of isolation, especially forced ones, you may actually be able to get the mental space necessary to reflect on what in your life really matters to you. Another way that such isolation can help is that you may notice what you miss, and what you do not! If being home bound has motivated you to look at your life, let's chat. In the meantime...until I hear from you... I will share just one quote from many words of wisdom by Eleanor Roosevelt: “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” Think about it.