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March 31, 2020

In Isolation and Anxious? -- #MTtalk Roundup

Yolande Conradie


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©©Getty Images/Mario Guti

"Other people complicate our lives, but without them life would be unbearably desolate. None of us can be truly human in isolation."

Harold Kushner, U.S. author and rabbi (1935- )

We often think that bad things only happen to other people. We forget that to everybody else, we are the "other people."

Now, however, we are all "other people" in the midst of a terrible global crisis: the COVID-19 pandemic.

Anxiety: an Unwelcome Guest

As the pandemic walked in through our doors, other things walked out.

Gone are our face-to-face meetings with colleagues, watercooler chats, and lunchtime breaks in the local coffee shops. Many of us now have a constant companion that never becomes a friend: anxiety.

It's a feeling I'm all too familiar with. Anxiety became an everyday emotion after I experienced a traumatic incident a few years ago.

It was hard to describe the feeling, even to family and friends – especially the ones who thought I should just "man up and deal with it." However, I did eventually find the words to explain how I felt.

I described it as constantly expecting bad news, with an accompanying hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach. At other times, it was a persistent fear or dread of some unknown terror.

It was like having a negative and pessimistic radio station playing in my head all the time, making it a catastrophe if I couldn't find immediate answers to any problems or situations.

Isolation and Anxiety: a Difficult Duo

Over time, I realized that I was most vulnerable when I was alone or felt isolated.

There are many factors that can contribute to feeling isolated. Being separated from other people, and/or from your normal environment (such as work), for example. And not having the type or frequency of human interaction you need can also play a major role.

In my case, having gone through a traumatic experience that others didn't understand, feelings of sadness and distress were also important factors.

Of course, a lack of support can also cause you to feel isolated, as can a history of abuse, or dealing with a major illness.

What Are the Upsides of Isolation?

When I spoke to one of my cousins recently, she told me how glad she was to be working from home for a few weeks, because it meant that she wouldn't be making her daily commute.

That means she doesn't have to spend 90 minutes on the road in the morning and again in the afternoon. She can get more sleep, and is also happy to avoid the stress of driving on busy roads, thronged with rude road users.

Children in the Mix

Many parents also have to look after children who aren't allowed to go to school during the pandemic.

A piece of advice that sounded sensible to me, is to give them an activity that will keep them busy for 30 minutes, while you do a 30-minute chunk of work - and repeat.

Don't compare yourself with others, and don't feel that you have to cover all the schoolwork they would normally have done. You only have so many hours in a day, especially if you have to take care of your own work, too.

Use this time to create more connection with your children, and be sure to do fun things, too. How about engaging in simple activities that cost nothing? Imagine your child one day saying to you, "Remember that time when we had to stay at home and we spotted a cloud that looked like an elephant? I'll never forget that day."

More Ideas for Coping With Isolation

How about catching up with friends via video call? Many people are in the same situation, and would no doubt appreciate a chat.

You can also clean out a cupboard, or rearrange the bookshelf that you've been meaning to get to for ages.

Write letters via email and tell people how much you appreciate them. Teach your dog a trick, read a new book, and keep a journal – it's good therapy. Teach yourself a new trick! How about signing up for that online language course you've never quite got around to?

Slow down and enjoy the things you don't normally have time for, like strolling through your garden or sitting still and listening to the birds.

And, for the shy ones among us who cringe when people say you must dance like no one is watching... now is a great time to do that!

Isolated and Anxious

In our #MTtalk Twitter chat last week, we explored how it feels to be anxious and isolated, and what we can do to make it better. Here is a selection of tweets from the discussion:

Q1. Why do people hide their anxiety?

@Dwyka_Consult If I hide my anxiety, it's because I don't want to upset others (especially my mom). I also don't have the energy to cope with the "double anxiety" that sometimes follows.

@MurrayAshley Unless you've experienced it [isolation anxiety], you can't really relate to it. So sharing with someone you don't know well actually increases anxiety as you don't know how they will respond.

Q2. What anxieties tend to accompany/follow isolation?

@PlayLrnGrwAchve That no one cares. That you are the only one going through what you are going through. Your world starts to feel small and the "real world"' feels loomingly large, but distant.

@LauraSchleifer Fear of being a "freak," fear of falling out of step with society, of becoming redundant, of invisibility, of being alone for the rest of your life, of sickness and death, of losing your mind, of time slipping away, of unfamiliar sounds, of your own thoughts and memories.

Q3. Do you have to be physically alone to feel isolated?

@GodaraAR No. Isolation is a mindset. People can feel isolated in a crowded room. Being alone is solitude, not isolation.

@BRAVOMedia1 No. We can be in a group and feel isolated from the tribe. It is a feeling of not having a seat at the table.

Q4. How does feeling isolated impact your emotional or mental energy?

@MResetRadio I find that some people start spiraling downward. Questioning anything and everything: their choices, their worth, their life. It can be scary if there's no support.

@harrisonia Without an alternative action plan and schedule that adapt to your new setting, feeling isolated can drain your energy.

Q5. What makes anxiety so difficult to cope with when you're isolated?

@JKatzaman When isolated, you're deprived of the antidote for anxiety, which is a broad array of reasonable in-person human contact.

@Mphete_Kwetli You feel you have to be right in front of everybody. You can't be yourself or express yourself. You begin doubting your abilities.

Q6. How might you use this time of social distancing and self-isolating constructively?

@ThiruHR At this #COVID19 outbreak moment: reframe "I am stuck inside" to "I can finally focus myself."

@MarkC_Avgi Fortunately, the weather has started to cooperate and I have been working in my yards and gardens or, when the weather is poor, reading, doing some writing & interacting on social media.

Q7. In what ways might having a plan for the day help, or not?

@PdJen Having a plan for the day can help you to stay focused.

@jojacob_uk Having a plan is probably useful or at least a couple of things to do. e.g: I put this #MTtalk in my calendar (really) so I would stop work. And I put yoga practice in, too. Then I might actually do those things.

Q8. How do you create a safe space for people to open up about their anxiety?

@NWarind By being a good listener, and with good intentions.

@realDocHecht Ask questions without providing judgment or feedback right away. Offering too much feedback often pushes people away who just want to be heard.

Q9. What can we do to stay socially connected while practicing social distancing?

@hopegovind Reach out, be resourceful. Don't just get in touch through social media, make a video call to your friends and employees, your near and dear. My mother called relatives across the globe on FB video call every day. It was wonderful.

@MicheleDD_MT Reach out and connect with people – phone, SM. Arrange virtual get togethers. I had a group lunch with work colleagues today!

Q10. What will you do differently following this twitter chat, to ease your or someone else's isolation or anxiety?

@Midgie_MT I will send a message to a friend who I haven't spoken to in a while and arrange a chat.

@Ganesh_Sabari Isolation pertains to mind and not the body. Create beautiful memories for all those with whom we interact. Spread positivity and joy.

To read all the tweets, have a look at the Wakelet collection of this chat, here.

Coming Up in Our Next #MTtalk

In times when people already feel isolated and anxious, even the optimists among us might feel more pessimistic than usual. The topic of our next #MTtalk chat is "Handling Pessimism." And in our Twitter poll this week, we want to know what causes you to feel pessimistic. For all the options, and to cast your vote, click here.

Useful Resources

In the meantime, here are some resources relating to our discussion on isolation and anxiety:

Managing Virtual Teams

Eight Ways to Cope When You're a Team of One

Virtual Team Building Exercises

How to Keep Calm in a Crisis

Working in a Virtual Team

Planning for a Crisis

Dealing With Anxiety

Physical Relaxation Techniques

Communicating in a Crisis

Coping With Change

Cognitive Restructuring

Rest, Relaxation and Sleep

Managing Your Boundaries

Meditation for Stress Management

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