Happy sun-shiney day CASS community! Hope you have been refreshed by the rain and energized by the sun these wondrous July days!
One of the biggest complaints I heard from folks about the mandated self-isolation protocol is how lonely they feel. Is this you? Or someone you know? Many folks struggled with loneliness far before the world shut down due to the coronavirus, and then having limited to no access to their support networks has made life feel almost unbearable for some. I’m sure we can all relate to some extent to another. We miss connecting with friends and family face-to-face, interacting alongside of co-workers, and sharing daily rituals with fellow community members, to name a few. I’ve realized, through this pandemic, just how much I rely on my connections with people for things like marking time, keeping me on track and energized, reminding me of my obligations, feeling comforted and grounded.
We’ve made it through this far (yayyy us!!), and I’ve noticed that for some, things are getting easier. Yet for others, it’s just getting harder. Understandable. Totally.
I thought it might be helpful to talk about loneliness and ways to cope. Because we can get through this. Together. Here are a few ways to cope with loneliness:
1. Don’t confuse being alone with being lonely.
Being alone is quite different than being lonely. Being alone is simply being by yourself. Many people can happily spend time alone doing things they enjoy, like reading, small jobs around the house, yoga, bubble bathing, or watching t.v. Being lonely is a feeling of being alone + feeling sad or anxious about it1. Someone might attach negative feelings to the state of being alone because of past experiences (being abandoned by a parent, being left out of activities in school, being bullied), negative self-beliefs (I am lonely because no one likes me because I’m unlovable), or fears (what if something happens to me when I’m alone? I die and no one even knows?). Fortunately, negative experiences and negative beliefs/fears can be addressed through psychotherapy like CBT. Read On.
2. Feeling bad doesn’t mean it is bad.
Emotional Filter is an unhelpful thinking habit that leads us to believe that if I feel bad, then the situation MUST be bad, or I must be bad (loneliness feels bad, therefore it must be bad). This is allowing our emotions to inform our reality. Yet, it’s a cognitive distortion that leads us into trouble. We might feel bad because we’re tired, hungry, or triggered by a cue that reminds our mind/body about a past negative event but is not relevant in the present environment (for e.g., being alone in my apartment reminds my body and mind of being left by my parent in a small room at a young age, and my fear is triggered even though I am perfectly safe in this apartment). The main way to reverse this cognitive distortion is to acknowledge it, and then remind yourself that just because it feels bad, it doesn’t mean it is bad. Balance your emotional mind with your rational mind. Search for facts about your situation and temper your emotions with rational thoughts.
3. Too much time to think.
Being alone can give us wayyyyy too much time to think of the “what if’s”. Our mind is meant to solve problems, and when we are left without other things to focus on, our imaginations can get carried away with solving problems that don’t even exist yet. Keep your mind busy with enjoyable activities, like baking bread (there’s a social media explosion with bread-making these days!), Sudoku, painting a room, weeding that garden, origami. Whatever gives you pleasure and takes your mind off your worries.
4. Explore those negative self-beliefs.
Take a moment to be still and focus in on those thoughts that usually run willy-nilly in your mind. What are those thoughts saying? Are they self-critical? self-blaming? doubt-inducing? catastrophic?
Imagine yourself catching each thought and putting it to the microscope. Examine it for it’s sources and purposes. Then, explore the evidence that refutes it and evidence that supports it. For e.g., take hold of the “I will always be lonely” thought and identify where it came from and why it’s there (e.g., I remember feeling so alone when my parents divorced at age 11; I think this is my mind trying to protect me from the hurt of feeling abandoned). Then, explore your past for times when you were lonely (supporting the belief) AND times when you overcame loneliness (refuting the belief). Really get deep with the strengths and resources you have demonstrated in the past in overcoming loneliness (e.g., remember the time when you reached out to an old friend and rekindled the relationship, or the time when you started a volunteer position to get through a lonely time….). Celebrate your successes and reframe your self-beliefs to be more in line with your strengths and your successes.
5. Physical distancing vs. social distancing
The distinction between social distancing and physical distancing is so vital to our mental and physical health. Despite the need to physically distance to minimize the risks of virus transmission, we NEED to continue connecting socially with people in creative, safe ways. We are hard-wired for connection; it has well-researched mental and physical health benefits. So use the technology you have to connect with people you love and care about. Plan regular skype/facetime visits and even plan activities to do together (think charades, trivia questions, drawing lessons) online. Be aware of the changing safety protocols and policies in our city/province and act in accordance to safely connect with friends and family. Think about creative ways to reach out to those who love and care about you.
Be cautious, though. Social media can be an amazing way to meet, interact, and share stories with people in our world. It can be a way to find comfort, commonality, and camaraderie. But it can also cause comparison, competition, and hard feelings if someone falls short. Be cautious about the amount of exposure you have to social media. Be picky in choosing social media platforms that lift you up vs. make you feel down. Specifically, choose social media that promotes feelings of joy and satisfaction, and avoid mediums that cause embarrassment, shame, and self-doubt.
6. Positive Affirmations
Reframe the negative “what if’s” into positive what if”s. Focus on your strengths and gifts for getting through rough times. It can be as simple as “I can do this”, “I am ok”, “I am strong”.
For some folks, self-isolation brings reminders of past trauma. When memories/flashbacks are triggered, grounding can be a helpful way to bring oneself back into the current safe reality. There’s much to say on grounding, but basically the idea is to situate yourself in the current environment. Suggestions include: put both feet on the floor, touch/rub your arms or legs, and make note of the sights, sounds and other cues around you. The 5-4-3-2-1 mindfulness is a great strategy for grounding. Name 5 things you can see in this moment, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can feel, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste.
Imagining being surrounded by people who love and care for you (and vice versa) can be a way to find peace in the present circumstances. It can bring hope and comfort in times when our regular sources of hope and comfort are not available. You can find an audio-version of a lovingkindness meditation, and more, at: https://ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/loving_kindness_meditation
9. Know that this, too, shall pass.
Know that regardless of how swiftly and powerfully COVID-19 shut down the world, it cannot last forever. We are already gradually returning to our community of people. Though the impact of the pandemic may have a lasting effect, our ability to adapt and cope will continue to improve such that it may be a different world because of COVID but we will survive and succeed.
With you in spirit,
A. Some Good News on you tube; a much more positive, often funny, perspective on the Coronavirus crisis: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCOe_y6KKvS3PdIfb9q9pGug
B. A website full of different types of mindfulness meditations, activities, and videos “for a meaningful life”: https://ggia.berkeley.edu/
C. Another website full of different types of mindfulness meditations, including Loving Kindness: https://www.taoconnect.org/english-exercises/
D. Another shout-out to selfcompassion.org where Kristin Neff has a bunch of mindfulness resources, audio-recordings and self-care activities
Especially for Clients
A. Beyond Words developed a visual resource called “Good days and Bad days during lockdown” which includes a bunch of pictures that can help people communicate how they are feeling during self-isolation. It’s a great package of visuals to stimulate discussion about feelings, thoughts, and behaviors, especially for folks who struggle with verbal communication. You can download it for free here: https://booksbeyondwords.co.uk/downloads-shop/good-days-bad-days
B. People may want to reach out to someone they love by writing a letter, drawing, writing a song, etc. Sometimes just the ability to express one’s thoughts and feelings about missing or mourning someone can help calm these feelings and bring peace to the person’s heart.
C. Encourage clients to take a look at CASS’s you tube page, where colleagues and I share coping strategies and mindfulness practices for getting through this challenging time: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCHsf4Zk6ieX1CGeNZxmaQzQ
*Internet Safety resources:
1. Community Living BC has a website full of information and videos about internet safety for folks with disabilities: https://www.communitylivingbc.ca/resources/safeguards-resources/i-can-be-safe-online/