Humans are social creatures, we need social contact, and no matter how many Zoom quizzes you’ve done in the past few months, you’re probably still feeling a little disconnected from the outside world.
There’s no doubt that this period has been pretty challenging for our mental health: everything is changing at an uncomfortable pace and our brains are struggling to process it all. Any sense of certainty or stability you felt at the start of the year is probably long gone. For most of us, we feel like things are out of our control and this uncertainty can bring a lot of negative emotions with it.
It’s important to know that you’re not alone in these feelings and that most people are having a pretty hard time coping with the coronavirus crisis.
These are some ways you might have been feeling in isolation:
When you’re feeling this way, there are a few things you can do to feel a little less overwhelmed and improve your mental health.
Be kind to yourself
One of the most important things to remember in this period is to be kind to yourself. Things are not normal, and you shouldn’t be expecting yourself to function normally. If you need to take a nap to get through the day, that’s okay. If today isn’t the day you run 5kms, don’t stress.
Remember that you are not alone, we all have days or even weeks like that at the moment. You don’t need to come out of isolation having mastered 10 new skills. Sometimes it’s okay if the only thing you feel capable of doing today is watching 5 hours of funny dog videos on YouTube. If that helps, then go for it!
Activate your support network
Make an effort to maintain social contact. I know a Zoom call isn’t the same as seeing your friends in person but staying connected, even virtually, makes a huge difference to your mental health.
Connecting online can make us feel less alone and even just talking to someone on the phone can boost those feel-good hormones and lift your mood. Don’t forget that a lot of your friends are probably feeling just as alone as you are. So even if you don’t always feel like it, try and make an effort for them, you’ll both be better off for it!
With basically everything we do being moved online, it’s safe to say that our screen time has increased exponentially. As tempting as it can be to scroll through Tik Tok for hours at a time, the increased time spent on social media is probably having negative effects on your mental health.
If putting away your phone doesn’t seem entirely realistic, try switching to more beneficial apps instead. Download Headspace and do some meditation, listen to a podcast, watch an online workout and fit in some exercise. Doing these things will boost your mental health and leaves less time for you to mindlessly scroll through social media.
Switching off also includes limiting our exposure to the news. At this point, listening to negative headlines all day is not going to make you feel any better and at this stage of COVID, there’s not much breaking news you need to be watching all day. Instead, call a friend, ask them what they did today. I know hearing about their trip to the grocery store isn’t nearly as exciting as the fast-paced headlines, but I promise you, it will do wonders for your stress levels.
Dealing with re-entry anxiety
As things slowly start to go back to normal a lot of us might be feeling a little out of touch. For weeks we’ve been living in our own little bubble, not having to leave the comfort of our own room. So, it’s pretty understandable that the thought of suddenly having to return to normal life makes you feel uneasy.
At this time, a lot of us might be experiencing feelings of reintegration anxiety. Reintegration or re-entry anxiety is the fear of returning to normal life. Scientists call it ‘reverse culture shock’... but we prefer the term ‘FOGO’ (fear of going out). FOGO may have us all feeling a little anxious about jumping back into our normal social lives. You may not feel ready to go back to normal, and that’s okay. To help you survive this adjustment period, we’ve got a few tips which can make things seem a little less overwhelming:
1. Don’t overschedule
It might be tempting to fully book your weekend and plan to see all your friends at once, but this can make feelings of anxiety worse. Give yourself time to adjust, start by seeing a few friends at a time and then work your way up to bigger groups. Take it slow and start small, your friends aren’t going anywhere anytime soon!
2. Make your own rules
These are still unprecedented times and you’re allowed to feel anxious, uncertain or just unwilling to go out and socialise. Despite the changes in restrictions, you don’t ‘have to’ do anything. If you’d rather stay in bed and watch Netflix on the weekend, that’s totally okay. Give yourself as much time as you need to adjust.
3. Identify your anxiety and learn to be ok with it
If you are feeling a lot of anxiety about going out, you should know that these feelings are completely normal. A good tip for dealing with this anxiety is to name the feeling and acknowledge when it’s happening – writing it down can really help. Once you know what it is and when it’s happening, a lot of its power goes away. When you are feeling anxious make an effort to do something nice for yourself, don’t hesitate to put your favourite movie on, listen to some music or go for a walk to clear your head.
It’s okay not to want to go out and reconnect straight away. Humans are programmed in a way that means we can adapt to any situation, no matter how stressful it may seem at first. Right now we are simply living in an adjustment period. As things slowly start to go back to normal and we find our feet again, our mental health will start to balance out as well.
So, while isolation may have flared up a lot of unwanted feelings of anxiety or loneliness, rest assured that these will start to fade as the crisis improves and, before you know it, you’ll be feeling like your old self again!
And remember, if you’re struggling and want to talk to someone, it’s okay to reach out. You’re not alone in this and there are resources ready to help.