Well here we are several weeks later. Self-isolation, it is absolutely the right thing to do. Congratulations for being that person. If you are like me, you may have been feeling a bit like you are on a roller coaster. Initially there was this nesting sense that came over me. “This isn’t so bad. I can get caught up on all my projects…paint the hallway, clean the kitchen, sort my clothes into seasons.” I have never had that much free time before and I can say I was enjoying myself. That lasted about 2 weeks. One day I realized that I was bored and restless and even a bit irritable.
The truth is that isolation can be too much of a good thing. We are, after all, social beings which means that we need our family and friends. We need to be in touch with other people on a give and take level. We get some of our basic needs met through our interaction with others: love and belonging, approval and connection. Some theories about individual psychology make the case that we need others to recognize our humanity. Suffice to say that we need others for our mental well-being and it is clear from our understanding of neuroscience that our brain and our bodies are interconnected. What we feel physically is connected to what we think and what we think has an undeniable connection to what happens in our body.
Isolation causes changes in behaviour. It creates chemical changes in the brain that change how we feel and how we act. Some of these changes result in anxiety, depression, acute stress, loneliness, irritability, loss of confidence, low self-esteem. We may also experience short term memory loss or confusion, and distortions in time (I thought it was Monday but it is Wednesday!). It is also common to gain weight during times of isolation. Some of this is about less activity due to a lack of motivation and often prevailing sleepiness but it can also be about an increase in comfort foods. Stress can also cause weight gain.
This is beginning to sound like a lot of bad news but none of it is out of our control. There are so many things that we can do to avoid the pitfalls of self-isolation. First of all, be aware that you are always in control of your life by choosing to take control of your thoughts. You are in control of changing self-defeating thoughts to self-supporting thoughts. Attitude is the first step. Then you use the tools that you have to keep the down side of isolation at bay. Reach out to family and friends through social media, teleconferencing, FaceTime, and telephone. Be part of any social movement so you feel connected. An example is to participate in the activities that thank those brave people who are still on the front line. Exercise, exercise, exercise. If you have a back yard run around, kick a ball, do somersaults. If you can’t go out do wall pushups or run up and down the stairs or move with an aerobics recording. Eat regularly and try to add in some nutritious foods…no you don’t have to give up the chocolate cake! Set bedtimes and morning wakeup times so that you are actively moving around during regular daytime hours. Get out of your PJ’s. Comb your hair. Drink lots of liquids. And most of all, remember to breath. Do your deep breathing – 10 in the morning and 10 in the late afternoon or early evening. We forget to breath when we are under stress. We need to breath from the diaphragm. Practice breathing every day and you will reap the benefits.
I am wishing you all a safe and enjoyable self-isolation. Deborah