As most of the world is experiencing some social isolation, Dr Meg Arroll, Chartered Psychologist, working with leading supplement company, Healthspan, answers your most frequently asked questions.
There are different factors involved with how different ages will cope with social isolation – younger age groups are very well versed in social media so it may at first seem like they will be less negatively affected by remaining indoors, but older members of society may be more accepting of the restrictions.
It really is all about mindset – age isn’t a barrier to communication, just as youth isn’t a guarantee of connection. The important thing to remember whatever your age is to interact meaningfully – when online, truly connect with others rather than passively scrolling or liking comments and photos by messaging old friends directly. Passive online usage has been shown in research studies to increase feelings of isolation and low mood, whereas actively and genuinely interacting with others will boost self-esteem and wellbeing.
Connect – connect with others, connect with nature and connect with yourself.
Schedule regular video chats with colleagues during working hours rather than relying solely on email and pick up the phone instead of just texting your friends and family.
It’s vital to get some fresh air even when following social distancing advice, and we know that spending time in nature is a balm to the mind – when out, mindfully observe 5 sights, 4 sounds, 3 smells, 2 sensations whilst bringing your mind back to one present moment.
To meaningfully connect with oneself, write a letter each week to yourself and place them in a personal or family mailbox – sometimes these can be profound reflections and others may simply include daily observations.
Then when the social isolation period is finished, take them out and read each in turn, either alone or with loved ones. This will allow you to use this time in an incredibly positive way, enhancing self-development that can potentially enhance your entire future.
First of all, acknowledge your fears and worries – trying to ignore, repress or displace your fears will only make them bubble-up in other ways such as comfort eating, alcohol over-use and lack of self-care, resulting in poor sleep, fatigue and quite possibly a lowered immune system (which is definitely not what you want at the moment).
Just as you’d help a child confront the monster under their bed, by acknowledging fears or concerns, you take away some of their influence over you.
Then focus on controlling the controllable – whilst you may not be able to control the worldwide spread of this virus, you can follow recommended guidelines, control how much you check the news to moderate your anxiety and manage your response to the pandemic.
Finally, challenge any unhelpful beliefs such as catastrophizing, personalising and all-or-nothing thought patterns.
Again, this is about mindset – if you tell yourself 12 weeks is a long time, it will feel like a very long time. If you frame it as three months to adapt, grow and explore in the face of adversity, you can turn this time into a unique and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We all have activities and hobbies that we’ve wanted to try but somehow didn’t get around to it – whilst most of us do still need to work, the time saved on commuting and travelling can be mindfully filled with creative and enjoyable tasks. YouTube has instruction videos for pretty much everything you can think of and research has shown that art-making helps people to cope with difficult experiences and health conditions, as it is a good way to manage stress, reduce ruminative and intrusive thoughts and produce a sense of achievement.