This is clearly a situation that no one has ever experienced, and the stresses we are all feeling are enormous. Human beings are not designed to live in isolation. We are designed to live in partnership and community with other people. Being confined in one space and being around the same people (or alone) continuously for extended periods goes against the very nature of what we are designed for.
There are a few basic things we need as people that are difficult to get when we are self isolating or sheltering at home. These include human contact, exercise, fresh air, and community.
The following are some suggestions and ideas for how to address each of these things in order to do our best to maintain positive mental health and remain safe at the same time.
We are designed to not only have human contact, but a VARIETY of human contact. This is where self isolation becomes stressful. It’s not just a lack of interaction, but it’s a lack of the variety. We don’t see co-workers, friends, extended family etc. Our social lives are imbalanced with an excess of a select few people and a lack of many others.
In order to mange that, there are several things people can do. Reach out, use FaceTime, Skype, Zoom or other media methods to have some interaction. Get out of the house. Everyone is feeling cooped up, and spring is here. Take a walk around your neighborhood. You’re likely to see neighbors you can wave to and wish well. And use the media platforms for group interaction. Get on conference calls with several people at a time.
Many of us tend to lead a somewhat sedentary lifestyle to begin with. But we at least have to walk to and from the car when we go places. During the shelter-at-home order, it can be easy to get into a routine of extreme sedentariness. It can be tempting to lay on the couch and watch NetFlix. Although this can be enjoyable every now and then on a rainy day, it’s not ideal on a day to day basis for an extended period. Many of us rely on a gym we go to regularly for exercise which are not currently available.
Here are some ideas. Go for a walk or bike ride. Take advantage of spring time weather to take on projects. This will not only keep your mind stimulated, but will keep you physically active as well. Use YouTube to follow exercise routines. There are many cardio, aerobic, yoga, and many other types of exercise channels available. And finally, if you have kids spend time playing with them. Play tag, hide and seek, jump on the trampoline. Not only are these things fun and great quality time, but are great for physical well being also!
Without specific places to go, it’s very easy to just never even open the door. During shelter-at-home, feelings of confinement are absolutely normal. One thing you can do to combat those feelings is simply to get outside. Have a drink on the front porch, set up a hammock, or just lay in a lawn chair. Taking a walk right now is an interesting experience in many areas. With only essential businesses running, there is significantly less traffic noise. It’s an opportunity to really hear the birds and see other animals. Letting yourself have some meditative time outside will help feelings of anxiety that stem from confinement.
Sense of Community
Not only are we social creatures that need human contact, but we are also creatures that need a sense of belonging. We define ourselves by the groups we are in. When separated from our normal groups, whether it’s co-workers, extended family, social groups, church groups, or anything else, we lose touch with that sense of community. And we desperately need to feel a part of those groups.
Here are some thoughts. Make contact with the people you normally do. If there is a group that meets on a regular basis, continue organizing that group through video conferencing. On YouTube, lots of channels of a variety of topics have popped up to have large group video chat and interaction. And perhaps the most vital, find time to do acts of servitude. One of the greatest ways to combat feelings of isolation and separation from others is to do something that helps other people. Check on elderly or at risk people you know or that live in your neighborhood. Offer to pick up groceries for them. If you have a skill set for making things to help others, volunteer. Many people that have sewing skills are making face masks. Doing for others is a fantastic way to give meaning to our days when we are isolated.
If you’re struggling with any issues at all, please reach out and ask for help. Issues such as anxiety, depression, family or marital conflict, and many other forms of mental and emotional health can easily become large problems during times of high stress and isolation.