The Risk of Social Isolation and Coping Strategies

As we are at the start of social isolation it is important to try (if possible) and view this as an opportunity to grow and do all the things we have been putting off. If we start off with anger, stress and anxiety, this will just compound as we move longer into the coming months. I recognise this will not be easy for people who have potentially lost jobs or businesses.

When we isolate ourselves from the world there is a risk that we turn to alcohol, junk food, drugs, binge-watching TV as our lives become more and more unstructured. When we are feeling down, we may find ourselves craving sweets or junk food high in carbohydrates and sugar.

Sugar does have mild mood-elevating properties, but it’s only temporary. Within two hours, your blood sugar levels will crash, which has a mood-depressing effect. Typically, we can descend into rumination, which involves dwelling and brooding about themes like loss and failure that cause us to feel worse about ourselves. This is a toxic process that leads to negative self-talk.  Turning to alcohol or drugs to escape our woes is a pattern that can accompany depression and it usually causes our depression to get worse. Now we have more time, we have more opportunity to do some form of exercise. The risk is that the longer we don’t build this into a regular routine, our brain will become less capable of initiating and getting us to do it.

What do I do?

Be mindful of and present for the thoughts and feelings we are having. We can be aware of our loneliness without buying into the idea that we are actually alone. Know that it will pass, try to understand how your emotions are impacting you. That, in turn, can help put things in perspective so you can challenge unhelpful thoughts that may deepen your loneliness. Be realistic and focus on the here and now. We should try to have a firm idea of what we will do each day, this will solidify expectations and help you feel more in control. Try creating new traditions that you can do solo or with your family.  Distraction can be helpful when it is done with the intention of giving ourselves a break. This should be part of our daily structure and we should avoid turning to avoidance which is a passive coping strategy to distract us from uncomfortable feelings, preventing us from getting to the root of an issue.

The worry for many people who are self-isolating is that they are going to become ill. They could also potentially be concerned about their family’s health and welfare.

“Every time we have a thought, we make a chemical. If we have good thoughts, we make chemicals that make us feel good. And if we have negative thoughts, we make chemicals that make us feel exactly the way we are thinking.” Dr Joe Dispenza

We should be mindful that we do not slip into a negative spiral. How we think, feel, and behave become our reality. We have to become our own ‘fire-wall’ to any negative programming from our past and the things we are doing in the ‘here and now’ that imbed that negative programming.

Every day, we should ask ourselves a few questions – ‘how can we be the best version of ourselves in every situation?’; ‘How can we build new belief in the possibilities of a new destiny?’ This will take work and consistency but it will be worth the time and time is what we have right now.

Here are three suggestions to get you started:

  • Mindfulness Meditation: This will help you recognise negative programming and help build that firewall. There are many good apps you can download to help you which will also have guided meditation to help you sleep.
  • Exercise: Any form of physical exercise will help to turn off threat centres in the brain and activate self-soothing centres. Physical exercise will help detach your body and mind from anxiety and stress. It will also help to burn off the adrenalin generated by the limbic system response. There are many exercise videos on YouTube that are free and very good
  • Structure: Build a structure for the day with a range of activities ranging from working on something with purpose, eating, exercise to getting outside or connecting with other people via phone and online. Gentle structure will help things feel more contained and less likely to fall apart.

If you are having trouble with this, try reaching out to a mental health expert. They may be able to identify barriers and solutions on how you are viewing things and can help you work through them.

Unsafe at home

As a psychotherapist I am seeing the majority of my clients online at the moment, however, there are some who are unable to meet online as their home environment is not a safe place. So, for theses client, I still see them face to face ensuring appropriate safeguards are in place.  There will be many people who will be more at risk spending more time at home.

If you do feel at risk, try going for a walk and contacting someone you trust, the police or a therapist.  I have listed some numbers which might help below:

Freephone National Domestic Abuse Helpline, run by Refuge
0808 200 0247

Galop (for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people)
0800 999 5428

Men’s Advice Line
0808 801 0327

Rape Crisis (England and Wales)
0808 802 9999

David Lloyd