The global health crisis we're in today has brought us together, but it has also made us distance ourselves from our loved ones. Whether you're having to isolate in your room because you're COVID-positive, taking care of your elderly or at-risk family, or having to stay away from them for risk of exposure, all that solitude can be difficult to manoeuvre. “Our brain is a phenomenal organ, it keeps us alive by assessing danger, predicting outcomes, identifying pleasure, etc. But prolonged periods of isolation result in sometimes unhelpful spontaneous thoughts which—without the ability to verify—can lead to feelings of anxiety. Being alone also triggers the anxiety of what if something happens to me? Who will help? Who will save me?,” says Mumbai-based psychologist Tanya Vasunia. Human beings have evolved over time to seek comfort in a community, so when we're isolated from others, it can hurt on a physiological level.
We are social creatures—we thrive on connection, and have a deep need to understand and be understood. Experiencing loneliness can be extremely distressing in the short term. "It encompasses negative thought patterns (Such as I am all alone, no one understands me or no one loves me) which may contribute to low self-esteem. It can also affect sleep and appetite negatively. Left unacknowledged, this can lead to depression, anxiety, or even substance use as a coping mechanism to deal with negative, distressing thoughts,” says psychologist Shachi Dalal.What is the difference between being alone and being lonely?
One can be alone, but not feel lonely. They can be alone by choice whilst knowing that they have social connections they can seek out. “It may not impact their emotional state. However, one can be lonely, even when surrounded by a room full of people,” confirms Dalal. When you're spending lots of time in your own quiet space, it could give spiralling thoughts an open playing field. When our sense of connection to others feel threatened, it can cause anxiety that can fester, particularly if those concerns are not voiced. “We may fear losing loved ones, we may feel lonely in our struggles, we may re-evaluate life choices, we may even struggle with existential thoughts,” she says.
This is more so because a large part of our understanding of self and identity is formed by how society sees us. We use our social relationships as mirrors that help us see each other better. “When our friends and family understand or validate our thoughts and experiences, we not only feel less alone but it helps us recognise that certain experiences are not unique and are manageable,” shares Vasunia.How can you prep for an extended lockdown?
Being sick is one thing, but if you're scared, sick and alone, it can be a lot to cope with. Feelings of hopelessness or extreme worry are common. If you live alone, Vasunia suggests prepping for a situation in which you will have to be completely cut off (some pointers below). Keeping busy is key, so she suggests building a quarantine kit that'll ensure you're staying active the whole time. And stick to a routine! “Lying in bed for prolonged hours not only causes disruption in sleep but makes you feel lethargic and after a point causes low mood."What can you do to help keep keep yourself or a friend struggling with being alone positive?
“Acknowledge and honour your need for connection. While it may be hard to be physically present around your loved ones, find alternate avenues to build solidarity and connection,” says Dalal. Vasunia shares her five favourite things to do if you're feeling low about being away from friends and family.
Stay connected: Zoom, Facetime, Netflix Party, etc. are all great ways to keep the lines of communication going with loved ones. You don’t necessarily need to be in the same physical location of a friend or family to feel understood or connected.
Maintain a routine: A big way for people to keep going is keep a routine. Planning your days to include exercise, relaxation and a hobby, along with work will help you maintain certain elements of normalcy.
Plan something to look forward to every week: Whether it's watching a movie with friends, doing a weekly shop, ordering something online or doing a self-care evening of a face mask and wine. Plan something that makes you feel hopeful and excited.
Explore new hobbies or ideas: Now more than ever we have time on our hands, have a book list you have always wanted to complete? Ever wondered about mindfulness or whether you would be a good singer? Now would be the time to explore these avenues.
Sign up for therapy: Having a therapy session is a great way to vent, explore and discuss your thoughts, feelings, fears and ideas. You don’t only need to seek mental health assistance when something is wrong. It is a great way to feel recharged and maintain a positive perspective.Also read:
7 things you should should be doing to take care of yourself during the COVID-19 lockdown
Can anxiety actually be good for us?
10 ways to cheer up a stressed-out friend while social distancing