During this unprecedented, disheartening and challenging time time of globally fighting a pandemic, practicing social distancing, struggling to maintain economic and business continuity, there are a great deal of emotions felt by all across this planet.
This distancing strategy is purposeful to save lives, flatten the curve and eliminate this infection and the stress on our health care system and our economy. And gradually in many regions, it’s proving to work.
For many people, this ongoing stretch at home might be a time for contemplation, relaxation, re-evaluation, reorganization, deeper connection with your family members and other housemates and greater health and well-being all the way around.
If you are living with others where there’s strained, uncomfortable or dysfunctional relationships, this can trigger frustration, irritability, sadness, helplessness and a sense of feeling trapped.
For countless other people across the world, and especially for those that live alone, this social (and physical) distancing from other humans, can be quite distressing on many levels – psychologically, emotionally and physically.
While this mandate to stay at home is temporary, the effects of loneliness can range from mild to severe. For many this feeling of loneliness has been chronic with struggling over many years due to life’s circumstances. Or it can become chronic and problematic in the event that this pandemic, social distancing and working from home (or sustained unemployment) continues for a longer period of time.
One thing to keep in mind is that a sense of isolation and loneliness is relative, based on many factors along with each person’s individualized perception.
For example, you can live with or be around other people (family, colleagues, friends, roommates) and still feel lonely. And yet you can live alone or be alone at any point in your life and be perfectly content without feeling lonely.
A sense of loneliness and isolation can adversely affect the human body, mind and spirit in more ways than you might realize. Not only is it extremely unhealthy, it can be dangerous and hazardous to your health, well-being and longevity.
We are humans. We are meant to connect, collaborate, create community, create a tribe and develop deep loving bonds with each other. When that is interrupted or deficient for a longer period of time, that’s when the body and brain suffer.
Albeit, loneliness and isolation may be temporary for some, but this is a very universal and relevant topic (especially in the last decade) and it needs more emphasis and awareness for change to occur.
Listed below are several signs, symptoms and effects of isolation and a sense of loneliness:
- Anxiety and or panic attacks
- Feeling hopeless
- Sadness and/or crying
- Anger and irritability
- Lack of focus
- Low energy: physical and mental fatigue
- Diminished ambition and drive
- Sympathetic nervous system “fight or flight” response: sense of fear or threat
- Mood swings
- Hormone imbalance: low/high cortisol, pms, worsening PMS, skipping periods, menopause symptoms, lower testosterone
- Lack of interest in things that used to interest you
- Diminished sense of self esteem
- Difficulty truly connecting with others
- Challenge in feeling heard or seen
- Sleep disruption – excess sleep or insomnia
- Change in eating habits: too much “emotional eating” or too little – lack of appetite
- Substance abuse: increased dependence on recreational drugs, alcohol, tobacco
- Chronic inflammation
- Increased dependence on psychiatric medications
- Compulsive behavior: excess shopping (online), overspending, gambling, computer and social media addiction
- Change in digestive function; stomach pain, ulcer, bowel movement regularity
- Oxytocin deficiency – the bonding/touch/love hormone
- Lack of self care and home care: less exercise, bathing, home is disheveled or unkempt.
- Relationships with family members, friends, coworkers are more strained or distant/disconnected
More serious and long term signs, symptoms and effects of chronic isolation and loneliness:
- Sense of impending doom
- Earlier onset of dementia
- Earlier mortality/death
- Chest pain & Heart attack
- High blood pressure
- Insulin Resistance and Diabetes
- Weakened immune system and higher risk of illness
- Divorce and family estrangement
- Job and/or income loss
- Suicidal thoughts and/or attempts
Guess what all of those symptoms point towards? STRESS! Yes, the body is experiencing a form of stress (or fear) and it may not be the typical stressors we commonly think about: deadlines at work, traffic jams, arguments with another, excessive demands of family, life, bills, overwhelming responsibilities, etc.
Acute or temporary stress is inevitable and the body is designed to cope with that, regain resilience and then move on. Chronic stress, on the other hand, has detrimental consequences.
So, during this upheaval and unsettling (yet evolving and resolving) time, what types of activities can you engage in to keep the connection and lessen the feeling of quarantine?
- Human Connection: Everyday, make a concerted effort to connect with family and friends (not just coworkers) who live outside of your home via Phone calls, FaceTime, videoconferencing using Zoom. My 11 year old niece in the Bay Area is still doing her dance classes 2x/week through a live videoconference with her dance class friends. And more and more distant families are doing 1x/week videoconferencing. Less texting and more voice and face to face interaction.
- Therapy is Essential: Schedule an appointment with a therapist or counselor. Many are doing videoconferencing or phone appointments these days. When we are feeling low or down or just not like ourselves, hearing those validating, encouraging and motivational suggestions makes all the difference in the world.
- Facebook Groups: Join a private Facebook group that truly speaks to you, resonates with you, uplifts and encourages you in some way. Facebook groups are fantastic for creating a collaborative, welcoming sense of community where you feel like you belong there. If you don’t get that vibe or feeling, leave and join another group or groups. This could be for your profession or job, hobbies, lifestyle, interests (i.e. cooking, dogs, music, photography, hiking, family/kids/work balance, medical conditions or symptoms, etc). Or start your own and build your own tribe of followers and like minded people! I have recently started a Facebook Group called Peri & Post Menopause: Women’s Health, Hormones & Vitality – https://www.facebook.com/groups/periandpostmenopause/?source_id=106961380686679
- Get Outside: Keep (or start) exercising outdoors – mask and all if you choose! Keep the human to human “connection” from a distance outside in the open, fresh air. I love seeing people and human faces on the bike trails where I live in Roseville. We finally have an amazingly beautiful spring here in Northern California. I was admiring the abundance of rain, creeks, lush green trees, plants and colorfully vibrant flowers yesterday on my walk. So much to be grateful for in the midst of our current situation.
- Party Online: Cook “together” with friends and family via FaceTime or videoconference or share what you’ve created in the kitchen. Exchange recipes and share what you created. Play a musical instrument or sing a song for one another using the same technology. Pretend you are watching a live performance at a concert – only you know that person well!
How can you re-evaluate and reframe this social and physical distancing and isolation? What is this entire experience trying to teach you? What are the silver linings? What are you learning about yourself? Spinning this in a more enlightened and advantageous way is essential for getting through this in a much healthier way.
Practice reminding yourself:
- I/We are alone together. This is merely “physical distancing” and I/we and them (the rest of the world) are not socially isolated whatsoever!
- This alone time can be a powerful cue or message that you truly and deeply value human connection and human relationships despite your usual busy, full or preoccupied life or regardless of your tendency to be sometimes reclusive, withdrawn or comfortable with your routine.
- Not only is it perfectly okay to have more alone time and more frequently, it can actually be therapeutic and can enhance personal growth, development, creativity and foster self reliance for your own fulfillment and joy. Mental strength and stamina gets a workout! Many introverts already know this. Extroverts might need more convincing on this one.
- Alone time can quiet the noisy external (and even internal) chatter so you can better listen to your intuition/inner guidance/gut instincts on what you need right now to be truly happy. Plus this helps you tune into what you need and want for the remainder of your lifetime on this amazing planet.
- Alone time can increase productivity – for your job, business, your home and yard projects, your hobbies, your health, your dreams and goals, your education or online courses, and gives you a greater opportunity to plan your life.
- Alone time helps you develop a healthier, empowered, more confident, more self respecting and self loving relationship with yourself – pretty rare qualities for a lot of people.
- And guess what the outcome is with all of that alone time? You develop a greater sense of empathy and compassion for not only yourself, but also for your fellow human beings in your inner circle and this world. We all feel alone and isolated at times in our lives. And regardless of how many people you live with or interact with in a day, right now is likely the only time that the majority of us are feeling alone, isolated and disconnected. And yet those same human emotions are the very thing that connects every single one of us.
Please continue to stay healthy, social (via phone and computer), responsible and safe!
P.S. Phone and Videoconference Appointments for New and Follow up Patients are available. Please visit www.doctorkristi.com and click on “Schedule an Appointment.”