So you’re feeling isolated, eh? Here are some ideas and tips on how to help yourself get through the isolation you’re feeling during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Isolation can be scary
In these unprecedented times, most people are uncertain how to handle all of the new constraints that have impacted our daily lives. The unknown of what is to come and the challenges this pandemic have us facing are vast. There are not only significant concerns about protecting our health and the health of those around us but an array of other matters we are grappling with.
The main issue I’d like to focus on in this blog is the effect that isolation can have on our wellbeing – both physical and psychological. Our mental health is of utmost importance to help get us through these trying times.
One of the more critical suggestions for those suffering from anxiety during the pandemic is taking an in-depth look at what you have control over. When you determine what you can control, focus on those aspects of your life. Some of the actions you have control over could be physical choices, such as taking a shower each day.
An area we may not consider that often that we do have a lot of autonomy over is our thought patterns. We can use willpower and mental strength to help us catch ourselves before going down the proverbial rabbit hole. By being aware of what triggers our anxious feelings, we can work hard to avoid those triggers. As an example, if you are finding you are having a stress response to seeing too much related to COVID-19 on social media, limit your usage.
People often ask me, “but how do I notice my triggers or build up my mental strength?” and just like our physical bodies, this can take time. Imagine you started going to the gym: over time, your stamina would improve, your cardio health will increase, and your muscles would become stronger.
Check-in with your physical and mental health
It is the same for when we challenge ourselves to work out our minds. First, I suggest checking in with your body and asking some questions. Are you waking up with headaches, having interrupted sleep, noticing your shoulders are hanging out near your eyes, feeling exhausted, or quick to anger? These are some signs from your body that it is under stress and trying to tell you to pay attention.
During these times of quarantine, when you wake up in the morning, you could do a full scan of your body and see if you notice any tension anywhere. Make a note and then ask yourself if you can relieve it. Ways to alleviate stress include the use of a heating pad or hot water bottle on the small of your back or your belly. You can also hug it as it will give you the experience of warmth, which calms our system. You can also do progressive muscle relaxation, which allows you to release the tension in your muscles. It’s simple and something you can google to find the technique best for you.
There are also basic breathing exercises. These are as easy as breathing in for a count of 6, holding your breath for a count of 8 and breathing out for a count of 10. Breathing out slower than you are breathing in calms your nervous system and tells the rest of your body and mind that you are okay. You can do reps of this breathing exercise multiple times a day. You can pair this technique with meditation or yoga as well as other activities you have used that you have found to be calming. Remember that we need to feed our bodies and our minds with vitamins and minerals that will help support our immune systems as well. Take care of yourself and address your needs for the big three: mind, body, and soul.
Give yourself a sense of normalcy
You can also use familiar habits to keep your body calm. By maintaining the routine you had before isolation, you can reduce mental stress. These activities may take the form of showering or brushing your hair, eating breakfast at a particular time, or other daily tasks that feel “normal.”
Another way to help maintain the calmness in your body would be to develop a good sleep hygiene. I don’t mean cleaning your sleep, but having a bedtime routine that lets your body know it is soon time to go to sleep. Activities to include in your bedtime routine could be getting into your PJs, dimming the lights, taking a warm bath or shower, or having a cup of tea. I know many of you are in pj’s all day right now, so just switch in and out of daytime and nighttime PJs if you can. Unplugging from your electronics to read a book, knit, meditate, or journal to unwind.
Calm your thoughts
I do always recommend having a journal or notebook next to your bed in case you wake up with your mind running. A way to train yourself to move past a running mind is to write down the thoughts you have when woken up or when struggling to fall asleep. Writing your thoughts down gives your brain a sense of security that the information is safe because you will have a hard copy in your notebook.
The journaling/note-taking can be loose instead of formal. You can skip the “dear diary” and fully formed sentences and paragraphs. You can just free write! Your writing may take the form of a to-do list, worries, ideas, thoughts or feelings, a mind map or even a drawing. Put it down on paper, and after repeating this for a few nights, you should have now trained your brain to trust that your thoughts are being well taken care of. You’ll have a sense of calm knowing that you can review your thoughts later after you get some rest!
Journaling can be a great way to express all that you are feeling. I also want you to consider how to journal with purpose, thinking about whether what you are writing is helpful or hurtful to your mental health during this time. One suggestion is to write a journal entry to remind yourself of the good things that are happening for you right now or to reflect on what you can appreciate during these times of hardship.
No matter how you journal, capture that positivity at the end of each entry. Write the three positives of your day. These can be as simple as “my coffee was extra yummy today,” or I saw a flower begin to bloom,” or “that morning sex was great today.” These reminders of the things that brought you joy that day are something that you can reflect on when you’re feeling low.
Now that you have your body in order or at least feeling a little at ease because you’ve trained it to be, you can also do this with your thoughts. Stop yourself mid-thought and ask if the thought thread you are following is helpful or hurtful to you. If it is harmful, try and change your thought process.
Try to focus on what is within your control. Work on accepting that which is outside of your control. By placing our energy and focus on the things we do have control over, we feel a sense of accomplishment and ease.
Adjust your exposure
I also recommend limiting the amount of online viewing you are doing. I recommend looking at Health Canada, your province’s health page, or the World Health Organization. For myself, I have dedicated 15-20 minutes each morning to get updates about the virus and new regulations implemented surrounding the pandemic. I try not to follow any threads that could lead to misinformation or also cause anxious feelings. You have the control to avoid the overwhelming amount of information out there. Focus on the data from those who are at the forefront of the pandemic and listen to their expertise.
Pick up a new hobby
Speaking of expertise, why not become an expert in something yourself? Why not use this time for some self-care, use some ingenuity and come up with some ways to pass the time. There are many things you can do for self-care that aren’t just face masks and pedicures. Some of these include:
- baking or cooking
- arts or crafts
- science experiments
- home workouts
- breathing and meditation
- movie watching
- book reading
- virtual visits with friends and family
- dance parties with friends or alone
- time alone in your room
- time with family you live with
- spring cleaning organizing
I suggest watching comedy shows and uplifting movies or shows that will bring a smile to your face or some laughter to your body. These activities have a good effect on our bodies by releasing endorphins into our systems, which we all need right now.
It’s okay to feel grief
Now that we’ve brought some positive thoughts and feelings to your body, I want to speak about allowing our systems to experience pain. It might sound strange to be talking about grief and loss at the moment, but this is what we are all experiencing.
“Living loss” and “anticipatory loss” describes what we are currently experiencing. Both are a little different from loss from death but have similar effects on our bodies and minds. We are experiencing a loss of contact and physical connection with others; we are experiencing loss of routine, normalcy, work, finances and the list goes on. We are grieving in anticipation of loss we have yet to experience but know will come, such as business, trips, or finances.
Given that we are experiencing a lot of grief due to the losses we have already experienced or are about to experience, I recommend trying to have a little compassion for yourself. Understand that you may be a little more on edge or snappy, that you may need to rest more frequently, you may feel emotions bubble up quicker than usual.
When we are in this state of anticipating, let’s try to give ourselves a break and allow ourselves to experience our emotions, as it is a normal process to grieve. We may come out of this feeling a little better for having done so. If you struggle to be compassionate for yourself, try asking yourself if your partner or best friend was experiencing this loss if you would have compassion for them. If the answer is yes, ask yourself if you can use that yes for yourself for right now.
It’s also important to release tension instead of just bottling it up. Different releases work for different people. Maybe it’s working out, writing, having sex, crying, screaming, or dancing. Allow yourself to feel frustrated and let it out. We don’t need to keep it together all the time. We need to tune in to our feelings instead of turning away from them.
Pay attention and make sure you don’t allow yourself to stay in this state for lengthily periods. Instead, set yourself a time limit for these releases and be sure to pull yourself out of it when your time limit has arrived. Be mindful not to be hurtful to yourself or anyone else while letting it all out, but try and see the value in this expression. Stuffing emotions under the rug just leaves a big bump to trip over every day. Let’s clean it out before it turns into a mountain of things stuffed down inside.
I hope that some of these ideas are helpful to you or to someone you know and love. In times like these, working together to find ways to get through this is paramount. If you find that you are struggling on your own to get through this, please feel free to reach out to set up some online counselling via video conference. Or reach out to a friend or family member you can talk with. For those of you who have benefits packages through your work, now is a great time to utilize the portions delegated for counselling services.
Some friends and family have asked in what ways can they lend support to me during this time, and so I’ve included a little info here in case you are interested.
- If you know of people who are needing counselling and who have benefits packages through their work or who can afford to pay for service, please share my website with them. We can very quickly set them up for online video conferencing sessions. I have worked online for over five years providing counselling to people all across Canada. I am certified Canada-wide and have additional insurance coverage for e-counselling. I use a telehealth program that is Canada and secure, which stores any data on a Canadian server.
- By sharing my info and your friends/family/coworkers utilizing my service, you are providing me with a livelihood. As an entrepreneur, there isn’t a lot of access to funds given the loss of business I am experiencing due to the crisis. If you are a friend of mine and you need counselling for yourself, feel free to reach out. I will happily connect you with counsellors who have the same qualifications as I do and who can offer you excellent service during this trying time.