How to Bust Loneliness Amid Social Distancing and Quarantining

Before “coronavirus” crossed the tips of our tongues, we were living in an age of dangerous social isolation. Loneliness can compromise the immune system, lead to inflammation associated with heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s and more. Too much isolation makes people far less likely to flourish. More than one-third of Americans aged 45 and older say they are lonely, according to a national survey by the AARP.

“Lonely adults are less likely to be involved in activities that build a social network, such as going to religious services, volunteering, joining a community group, or spending time on a hobby,” says Judy Holland, author of HappiNestFinding Fulfillment When Your Kids Leave Home [Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, February 15, 2020]. “They are more likely to spend their time sleeping, eating, watching television, and sitting in front of a computer screen. And they are more inclined to use drugs and alcohol. Families with elderly or sick members are dealing with even stricter isolation in an attempt to prevent covid-19 in this vulnerable population. Now that we’ve been catapulted into the most widespread pandemic since the Spanish flu in 1918, with ‘social distancing’ widely adopted nationwide and throngs ordered to self-quarantine, we need to find safe new ways to bust isolation and bolster resilience.

Holland also hosts the HappiNest podcast and recently posted an episode on “Facing Anxiety in the Moment Will Lead to Less Anxiety over Time,” during which she interviews Jelena Kecmanovic, aka Dr. K–founder and director of the Arlington/DC Behavior Therapy Institute and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University. During the podcast, Dr. K shares with Judy the following insight that Holland can also translate into a contributed article for your outlet:

As this coronavirus spreads, people are facing sadness, frustration and anger at officials who they feel have mismanaged the outbreak.

  • When anxiety shows up: Exercise, relax, get enough sleep, go outside, catch sunshine, find gratitude.
  • In times of anxiety, we resort to maladaptive strategies. To avoid anxious thoughts, we binge watch Net Flicks, drink too much, play hours of video games, over east. But those strategies are only temporary escapes.
  • In these uncertain times of Coronavirus, some people obsessively check the news every ten minutes. They are seeking answers to try to escape their negative feelings.
  • Be mindful: “What you resist, persists.”
  • Think of anxiety as a little tiger. When we feed the tiger, he goes away and for a while we are good. But then he comes back bigger. Watch for over reliance of avoidance strategies. If you feel sweaty, your heart rate rises, your thoughts race, your stomach tightens, do your best to ride the wave. These feelings will show up in fearful times. Accept them.
  • Connect to sources of meaning. Focus on behaviors that align with your values and where you find meaning. What makes you get up in the morning?
  • Try to view this crisis as an opportunity: It is a break in the busyness of life, which provides an opportunity for psychological growth. When we become a little more quiet and slow down a bit, there’s a chance to reflect back on your life and revaluate your priorities and what makes you tick.
  • If you have kids who are going to school from home, remember their generation is far more adept at using technology for socializing. They will stay in touch with each other, which is a highly protective factor.
  • Savor quiet family time. Reminisce. Watch movies together. Humans are very resilient and adaptable.
  • Create structure working from home. Wake up at about the same time, take a shower, get dressed. Avoid interruptions. Shut off the Internet if you don’t need it. Put your phone on airplane mode. At least, bunch up your notifications to come every hour or half hour so you can focus.
  • This is a really stressful and transformational time with lots of sacrifices to be made. But there’s a chance we will emerge more resilient and with an increased sense of what really matters in the world.
  • Many people who endure difficult situations come out with post-traumatic growth. They have a sense of living more fully and appreciating life more. Reframe how you look at this. Don’t just survive it. Aim to thrive. Be grateful.