We are now on our way to a full year of a global pandemic and depending on where you are in the world, many continue to feel the effects of social isolation. Even if you live somewhere with less restrictions, we still don’t have the freedom we once did. Many people are working from home, which makes isolation feel more intense. Those with children are now having to juggle working at home while simultaneously homeschooling their children, which poses many challenges.
Long-term isolation can have sever negative effects on one’s physical, psychological and emotional well-being. We are social beings who desire and seek closeness and contact with others to help us feel happy. We were not created to be alone. Rufa (2020) explains that long-term isolation increases the risk of psychological and health problems, such as anxiety, depression, dementia (in older adults), substance use, heart disease and high blood pressure.
We may be facing a long haul on social distancing and taking precautions until a cure becomes available. The Center for Disease Control (2020) advises if you are considering engaging in social activities in public, adherence to a 6-foot distance between you and others is essential. Outdoor activities are preferred to indoor spaces, as this lessens the risk of exposure due to greater ventilation even while wearing your mask in the presence of others. It is also recommended to keep the following on hand when out in public: hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, tissue, and a face-mask.
Here are 10 things you can do to maintain your emotional well-being at home:
- Find time for you. Write down some things that you enjoy doing or that bring you happiness or peace, such as taking a warm bath, painting your nails, drawing, or gardening. Perhaps identify a new hobby you would like to try that you haven’t made time for yet, such as painting, cooking, playing an instrument, or journaling. You may find that you have lost touch with an activity that you once enjoyed, simply due to being too busy. Maybe now is the time to re-engage.
- Get organized. Carve out time to tackle some home projects you’ve been putting off, such as cleaning out your closet, your pantry, or your garage. Getting things back in order often helps feel a sense of control in our lives and lessens stress.
- This might be a good time to reassess finances and create a budget. When you do this, you may find that you don’t need some of the prior luxuries to which you were accustomed before the pandemic. Examples of such are working out at home since you can’t go to a gym, making more meals at home instead of spending money eating out, or cutting your own lawn. It can be very freeing to cut back on familiar luxuries by reducing financial output on things you find that you really don’t need.
- Stay Connected and do something for someone else. Oftentimes, we can be so focused on our own life challenges that we become blind to the challenges of others; but of we shift our focus outward and help someone else, we often find that our situation is not as dire as we might think. Try to connect with your neighbors and others in your community, with safe distance, as you may find that you can help people less mobile than yourself or people less able to access technology. Perhaps there are ways to help, such as picking up a few things at the grocery store for a person in need, paying a bill for another, or pulling out your neighbor’s containers to the curb on trash day. Small gestures go a long way! If you can’t see your loved ones as much as you’d like, try and connect with them via video chat.
- Be creative and change your routine. It’s quite frustrating to feel stuck in a rut. We are all busy, and many people are juggling family life and work. Find new ways to do things with your family time. Keep kids busy and structured. Have them help with dinner and chores. If you always eat at the dinner table, maybe enjoy dinner outside. If you are a family that isn’t into board games, maybe start a game night and involve all the family. Put the cell phones away and re-connect with one another.
- Be intentional about being positive. Start a gratitude journal. Even though life is stressful and being isolated isn’t easy, try and focus on the good things. Identify the things that are going right in your life, or identify your positive qualities, what you like about yourself. You can also think about the qualities you admire in others that you would like to emulate in yours. Take time to think about and jot down notes of happy memories. We often live on autopilot just going about our routines and we forget about the things that once brought a smile to our face. Slow down and enjoy the good.
- Be kind to yourself. Some of you don’t need to add more to your plate, but rather need to take things OFF your plate. Learn to say no. Do not over-burden yourself and be mindful about your needs and your self-talk. You people-pleasers out there need to take especially good care of yourselves because if you don’t take time to decompress and refuel, you will burn yourself out and create resentment in your life and that won’t be good for you or those around you because you won’t be your best self. Ask yourself every day, “What is one thing I can do for me today?”
- Be mindful about your internal voice. What are you telling yourself? Is it positive or negative? Life is difficult, busy and stressful enough; we don’t need to add to it by beating ourselves up with negative self-talk. Be mindful about your internal dialogue and be positive! Take time to write down some positive affirmations, such as: I am worthy; I am doing my best; I will focus on the things I can control; Today is a great day.
- Acceptance means that you can’t control everything. Focus on the things you can control and not what you can’t. Realize we are in the middle of a pandemic over which we have no control. Remember that there is a beginning, middle and ending to everything. This too will pass.
- Know when to ask for help. If you have tried these or other strategies and you find you are still struggling, reach out to a mental health professional now. You do not have to face your challenges on your own. Now more than ever, it is very easy and convenient to connect with a mental health professional via telehealth services online.
Center for Disease Control (July, 2020). Daily Activities and Going Out.
Rufa, A. (2020). Combating the Effects of Social Isolation.
Dr. Sandra Cortez, PsyD