Publish date: 13 January 2021
Combatting social isolation and loneliness
In this ever-changing set of circumstances, it is important to look after our psychological welfare, to embrace opportunities to connect to others in as many ways as we can while adhering to all Covid-19 safety measures.
At a time when many of us are being asked to work more remotely, reduce social networking, distance ourselves from wider networks of family and friends, coping with so much change can pull many of us into feelings of physical and emotional isolation.
As social beings, one of our basic needs is to be able to reach out and connect with others, and most of us would do this quite automatically as a force of habit.
Simple examples of positive human interaction might include acknowledging another person when passing them in the corridors or stairways at work; having eye contact and sharing a friendly greeting with a member of staff at our local newsagents or shop; talking to a stranger when queuing at the bank etc.
These apparently ‘minor social connections’ all add up to nurture a sense of personal safety, psychological ‘connectedness’ to others, and a feeling of belonging to our wider social environment.
Working remotely and having to socially distance from family and friends can potentially bring about feelings of loneliness and emotional isolation.
We may find we have too much time to think, too much time to pour over our thoughts and concerns, particularly when many of us are spending more time on our own, away from familiar people and familiar routines.
While it is normal to reflect on positive and negative aspects of our daily lives, regular human interaction tends to enhance our problem solving skills, diffuse escalation of negative thinking habits, and prevent low moods from taking hold for too long.
Sharing thoughts and concerns with others allows us to relate to each other that bit better, to problem solve from shared insights gained, drop exaggerated worries, and to see the bigger picture.
Personal and work/life balance
Juggling work commitments as well as personal lives can always be a challenge, let alone with some people now finding themselves home schooling, having children at home who wouldn’t normally be there, whilst still working yourself. See what options are available to help. Speak with relevant people such as school or your line manager. Find out what can be arranged to support your caring responsibilities, but also you own wellbeing and work/life balance.
The following tips may help you to take good care of yourself in your new routines:
- Try to discriminate between being alone and being lonely – acknowledge that it is good to spend time alone independently from time to time, caring for yourself. Reading or just engaging in a hobby for an hour or so can be good for your sense of independence and resilience.
- Stay connected to others as much as possible – call a friend, go for a walk with someone in your bubble, talk about your concerns and experiences with someone you trust. This allows you to connect with them and for them to connect with you at a deeper emotional level.
- Share resources – allow others to be there for you, to offer you advice, or do you a favour. The good feeling that comes from reaching out and giving to others works both ways, so perhaps offer support to others in any way you can. A small gesture of good intent can make a big difference to the wellbeing of another. You will be surprised how resourceful you really are when you reach out to help someone else in some small way.
- Bank five good things each day – this means purposefully identifying five good things that have happened over the course of the day, however small. This habit of ‘banking positives’ nurtures a positive bias in your thinking habits, and helps you to be more consciously aware of what is going well in your life.
We may all feel stressed in the face of the pandemic, but knowing that support is available and how to take care of our mental health can make a difference.
Washing hands and wearing masks can protect us from the virus, but what can we do to support our mental health during these tough times? If we practice mindfulness meditation we can strengthen our emotional resilience.
By making daily meditation as much a priority as wearing masks and washing hands, we can protect our mental health and have a much better chance of fighting depression and everyday anxiety.
While meditation is mostly a solitary activity – a chance for you to have some alone time and focus on your own health and happiness – mindfulness and yoga sessions can be run via online videos to provide a sense of community and allow you to practice with others.
You can access online relaxation techniques using websites and apps such as Headspace and Calm.
There are also very short breathing exercises which can calm the mind and the body, activating the ‘para sympathetic’ nervous system which calms the mind and brings down stress reactions in the body.
The 7/11 practice is very simple:
- Close your eyes.
- Breathe in and silently count to seven in your head.
- Breathe out and silently count to 11, repeat two or three times.
The longer exhalation will calm the body and the act of breathing and counting at the same time stops the worrying mind.