Distancing means giving up almost all social contacts, literally “imprisonment” within four walls for an indefinite period. This is a very important measure: it is believed that only self-isolation can slow the spread of infection and prevent collapse in hospitals.
But being alone can seriously affect the mental and physical health of many, especially single people. Use evidence-based ideas to reduce anxiety. And perhaps you will find positive aspects in quarantine.
1. Communicate regularly by phone or video
Of course, video chats are inferior to live communication, but it’s much better than nothing. Video chats (FaceTime, Zoom, Skype) have an advantage: they allow us to see each other’s facial expressions. Research has shown that this technology can help reduce bouts of loneliness and depression.
Replace canceled events with their online counterparts, get together with friends, colleagues, family members for games, dinner together, watching performances, and a virtual tour of museums. Even a 10-minute online connection can cheer you up, and creating a daily or weekly schedule will give you a sense of perspective, an opportunity to anticipate this or that event.
Just be sure to think about those who do not have access to video chats and who will need help and explain how to work with them.
2. Surround yourself with warmth
Curling up under a cozy blanket, taking a hot shower or making a cup of tea, you can calm down not only physically, but also psychologically.
American psychologists Tristen Inagaki and Naomi Eisenberger discovered that physical warmth and warm feelings share common neural mechanisms. Physical warmth can mimic the sensation of touch and activate neural pathways associated with attachment.
Therefore, when we physically feel warm, we unwittingly tune in to warm, sincere relationships. By the way, “comfort food” (dishes that evoke pleasant associations from childhood) can be liked for similar reasons: it reminds us of a sense of security and care.
3. Immerse yourself in a fictional world
The very best fictional stories are often the ones that make us genuinely anxious and want to care for the characters as if we knew them personally.
Research shows that when we are lonely, characters from TV series and books can play the role of social substitutes, helping us feel like we belong to something greater than ourselves. Therefore, if now you feel the need for drunken reading or watching TV series, know that this is not just indulgence. This immersion in a fictional world has real psychological bonuses.
It will also distract from compulsive viewing and listening to the news. Yes, it is very important to be aware of the events, but sometimes our brains need to rest.
4. Do something good for others (remotely)
This is one of the best ways to ease loneliness. When we are in trouble, practicing good deeds can give us a purpose, a sense of connection with others. Of course, the need to stay at home limits our volunteer opportunities, but there are still ways to help.
The first place to start is to reach out to acquaintances who may be experiencing difficulties, such as elderly neighbors or relatives, to make sure they are getting the food and medicine they need.
Other avenues include donating to organizations that save people in need, advocacy and support for policy initiatives to combat the pandemic, and supporting local restaurants and small-scale producers by purchasing gift cards or delivering goods.
5. Go back to old photos and memories
If you’ve never gotten around to dismantling your photo archives or backing up your family videos, now is the time. Most likely, you will stumble upon forgotten precious footage and videos – do not be lazy to send them by e-mail to loved ones in order to remember and relive these wonderful moments together.
To some, nostalgia may seem like a sad emotion, but research shows that it actually has many psychological benefits.
Study participants who were asked to recall a joyful event from the past later reported that they felt more protected by indulging in nostalgia. Other studies have found a direct link between nostalgia and reduced feelings of loneliness.
6. Find yourself something to do
For those who are able to work from home, work in itself can be a good way to keep the mind busy.
But if this is not your situation or you have too much free time, a good way to fill it is to participate in some not too simple, but fun game (if it is possible to do it remotely with friends), or creative activity, drawing or knitting. Problems that you want to dive into for a long time help you focus and keep dark thoughts under control.
Physical activity is vital for physical and mental health and is especially useful in conditions of forced isolation.
The best option is to take a group fitness / dance class online: there is social support, a clear workout structure, and the enthusiasm that an energetic, passionate instructor will inevitably infect you with. As a result, you will get more workload and more positive emotions than in the case of self-study.
Another option is to find a personal trainer who conducts virtual lessons.
8. Listen to music and sing
Everyone remembers the recent events in Italy: its residents across the country sang to each other from balconies to cheer up during isolation. Research has proven that singing together (for example in a choir) is extremely beneficial.
But you can sing alone, and that will help too. Sing along to your favorite performer, for example. Performing this way can also help you experience a sense of unity, especially when the song evokes a shared emotion. There is also nothing stopping you from attending a virtual concert and supporting your favorite musicians.
9. Pray or Meditate
Many forms of prayer and meditation involve wishing the well-being and well-being of others. Regardless of your religious beliefs, you can find a way to focus your mind on empathy for others, and this activity will be healing for you.
Loving-kindness meditation, for example, involves silent repetition of phrases like “I wish you health and freedom from suffering” and “I wish you happiness” directed at yourself and your loved ones. Then the area of attention gradually expands, covering people around the world and all living things. Research shows that this practice enhances feelings of oneness as well as self-acceptance.
In difficult times like now, it is especially beneficial to feel part of a single human community. Remember that by enclosing yourself in four walls and sacrificing a fulfilling life, you are protecting many others, including healthcare professionals and those at risk. For many, staying at home, often all alone, is an act of altruism.
About the author: Juliana Brains is a social and personal psychologist. Her research has been published in a number of scientific and popular science journals.