7 ways of staying sane when socially isolated

When a public health crisis deepens, there are many risks to mental health and well-being, and the maintenance of existing relationships associated with a lack of external structure.  The normal routine of life such as going to work, pub, gym, yoga studio or meeting friends for meals in restaurants could ordinarily provide a degree of discipline for mental functioning. Discipline from such an external structure is threatened during a public health crisis with greater social isolation. There is a greater emphasis on the need to gain mental discipline from an internally generated structure. The challenge is to find ways of sourcing the motivation to stay busy and to not over indulge in one’s thinking function. Overthinking will only boost anxiety and lead to catastrophising cognitive patterns. 

People who have pre-existing conditions associated with anxiety might find it more challenging to stay focused. Boosting internal structure requires more self-generated initiative in the absence of a regular routine. Well-being is built on the holistic components of mental, physical, emotional and spiritual fitness. Each area needs addressing and for each area to thrive it is necessary that we achieve good sleep, enjoy a positive and balanced diet, benefit from regular physical exercise and to find positive ways of reducing stress in life. One’s immune system will suffer if any one area is left unattended.

Older adults, especially those who live alone, are more at risk of social isolation and loneliness. Social isolation and loneliness, are, of course, quite different to each other although the terms are often used interchangeably. Social isolation is an actual lack of social support and meaningful contact. In contrast, loneliness is a person’s belief that they are lacking, (or have lost) companionship, and are suffering from a negative set of feelings that flow from the emotional state of being lonely.

Outlined below are the top seven ways of staying sane when socially isolated.

1. Embrace technology

This public health crisis is almost dragging some companies into the 21st century by effectively forcing them to introduce creative ways of working such as video conferencing, remote working and co-locating. Such ways of working are no longer an aspiration but now a necessity in order to survive. For individuals, one useful way of maintaining or indeed creating new social connections is to chat to friends on video conferencing platforms such as Skype, Zoom and Facetime. This may not be quite the same as meeting up with your friends face-to-face but it will, nevertheless, offer an opportunity to share your thoughts, feelings and worries with others. With more and more people self-isolating there will be more opportunities for joining online groups with like-minded individuals in order to achieve social contact. Greater social support will be needed to cope on a personal level as the health crisis develops.

However, try to impose limits on social media usage. Social media can spread misinformation as well as potentially fueling catastrophising ways of seeing things. It is easy to quickly feel overloaded with so much negative news and adverse information. Try to stick to trusted sources of news updates and seek to limit the amount of time you visit even these trusted sites.  

2. Maintain a healthy diet

During a time of self-isolation, there is more pressing need to maintain a healthy diet since it might be tempting to use food as a means of offering comfort and a way of masking feelings. Eating a healthy, balanced diet is an important aspect of maintaining good health, and can help you to feel your best especially during such stressful times. A balanced diet means trying to eat a wide variety of foods and in the right proportions. It also means consuming the right amount of food and drink to achieve and maintain healthy body weight.

There is, of course, no miracle cure, food, or supplements that can cure or prevent COVID-19, or other diseases, for that matter. The Eatwell guide on the NHS website is a useful reference for more relevant information. The reality of the present public health crisis may well mean that it will increasingly be more difficult to buy everything you need as a result of potential shortages on the high street for certain products. Having a good understanding of the varieties of foods you can eat to gain the nutrients you need could be really beneficial. A qualified nutritional therapist can help, and many now offer online sessions.

3. Try to achieve 7-9 hours sleep

Sleep is a major component of mental and emotional well-being especially when in a time of crisis. There can be serious effects on our brains and bodies and indeed on our immune system from not getting sufficient levels of sleep. Research shows that just one night of poor sleep can reduce our immune cells by as much as 70%. In the current public health crisis, there is even more need for good sleep than at any other time.

You will know if you are suffering from poor sleep hygiene if you are experiencing frequent sleep disturbances and daytime sleepiness. You should consider evaluating your sleep routine and revising your bedtime habits if you are taking too long to fall asleep.

For the latest advice on sleep hygiene see the sleep foundation website.

4. Devise to-do lists

This could be your opportunity to devise effective to-do lists which could prove transformative given the additional time on your hands. Lists with categories better help our brains to function. The key with to-do lists is to make sure to actually do them. Lists prove counter-productive when procrastination sets in from non-completion. The most effective lists are ones containing achievable tasks and it is worth bearing that in mind when compiling them.

The benefits of list writing are achieving greater energy levels, greater perseverance, potentially more effective relationships, more self-confidence and less anxiety. This could be the time to finish those books you started reading at Christmas, learn to cook, learn a language or develop a skill.

5. Try to get vitamin d to boost the immune system

The immune system needs good levels of vitamin D in order to combat viruses. On its own, it won't protect from contracting the COVID-19 virus if you're exposed, but it could reduce the severity of the illness and help to make recovery much easier. Getting the right level of sunshine might be difficult during periods of self-isolation and in spring months but perhaps it means getting creative in order to secure healthy amounts of vitamin D. It is also found in foods. Fatty fish like tuna, salmon and mackerel have good sources and beef liver, eggs, cheese, and mushrooms also have good sources, albeit in smaller doses.

6. Maintain a physical exercise regime

The temptation might be to spend excessive amounts of time on your sofa watching television or passively browsing social media if housebound. It is crucial, therefore, to maintain a physical exercise regime during this time especially since you will be walking less. Some gyms are providing live stream workout sessions on social media. You could also visit Youtube channels which contain videos to help to practice keep fit exercises and/or yoga exercises. Maintaining a physical exercise regime will help to boost mental well-being and also offer a sense of personal control. It will also help to boost muscle strength and tone, maintain a balanced metabolism and improved respiration, energy and vitality.

7. Learn to meditate

The benefits of meditation are many, such as controlling anxiety, enhancing self-awareness, lengthening attention spans and reducing stress. There are many online resources to get you started if you have not previously tried it. However, a very simple meditation technique is to sit upright, close your eyes, concentrate on your breathing and slowly count from 100 to 1. As you do this try to stay focused on your breathing and not to worry if your mind wanders, but bring your attention back to the count. This exercise (if practised) will help you to relax, boost energy levels and be less focused on what you are thinking.  

Seeking help

Spending more time at home without a usual routine might unmask demons which could trigger a sense of panic, put pressure on existing relationships or ignite addictive behaviours. It is important to reach out to others to help provide perspective in this challenging time. In ordinary times the quality of our self-care regime and social support structure is critical for psychological and emotional well-being. In a time of a public health crisis, it is even more critical.

Seeing a therapist during this public health crisis can help to provide perspective in the midst of social isolation. If you need to find a therapist for online counselling it is advisable to use a reputable practitioner directory (such as Counselling Directory) which ensures that all of the listed counsellors on the platform have been checked for proof of qualification. You might also want to check if someone is professionally accredited to bodies such as the United Kingdom Council of Psychotherapy (UKCP), the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP) and the British Psychological Society (BPS). This will mean that the practitioner has met professional standards of training, observed clinical supervision requirements, adheres to an ethical code and has a commitment to continuing professional development.  

 Tags: Relationship issues, anxiety, loneliness.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Noel Bell MA, PG Dip Psych, UKCP

Noel Bell is a UKCP accredited psychotherapist online who has spent over 20 years exploring and studying personal growth, recovery from addictions and inner transformation. Noel is an integrative therapist and draws upon the most effective tools and techniques from the psychodynamic, CBT, humanist, existential and transpersonal schools.… Read more

Written by Noel Bell MA, PG Dip Psych, UKCP

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