We’re probably still in the early days of a crisis — the brewing storm of emotional challenges that stem from hunkering deeper into our homes either by choice or necessity.
Whether you’re working from home, self-quarantined, social distancing or immunocompromised, the coronavirus pandemic is calling for long stretches of cabin fever that’s unprecedented for most of us.
The upside is that the cancellations of social events and a shorter commute means that we all have more time on our hands. The downsides — and there are several — mean that in addition to going stir crazy, we can start to feel extreme loneliness.
Research indicates that loneliness can have very real health consequences.
“We now have very good evidence that being socially isolated and lonely puts us at risk — our physical health, mental health and cognitive health,” says Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychology and neuroscience professor at Brigham Young University.
Holt-Lunstad’s research focuses on the long-term health effects of social connection and identified loneliness. She stressed the importance of staying social during this time.
“I wouldn’t wait until you’re feeling something [like loneliness or depression] to find ways to maintain social connections,” Holt-Lunstad says. A phone call, or even texts to say, “’I’m thinking about you, how are you doing?’ That’s better than nothing.”
Social connections through any medium are key, stresses Carol Bernstein, a psychiatrist and the former president of the American Psychiatric Association.
“Reach out to people you trust — call, email, text message, FaceTime, Skype,” Bernstein wrote in an email. “Try to relax your body — take deep breaths, stretch, meditate, use prayer if that is helpful to you.”
“Do something fun after you have done something difficult,” Bernstein wrote. “Consider keeping a journal — write down what you are thinking and feeling.”
“If you notice that someone you care about is behaving differently, pay attention and ask if they are doing okay — how can you help,” wrote Bernstein.
Holt-Lunstad also noted that positive messages can decrease stress while negative messages, including those spreading news updates, may increase stress in very real ways.
Bernstein likewise noted that while social media can have its benefits, it’s good to take breaks.
“Watch movies, stream shows, read books, pay attention to your hobbies — as a break. Too much negative information may be overwhelming,” Bernstein wrote.