Nine social health experts weigh in on how to cope with the ongoing isolation challenges of social distancing, shelter-in-place, and quarantine. 

By Rachel Zurer 

Over the past several years, loneliness and isolation were already coming into focus as a worldwide health crisis. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. As physical distancing practices help keep our bodies and healthcare systems in good shape over the long run, they may be adding extra fuel to the fire of depression, loneliness, and isolation that so many people suffer from.

We asked some of the expert members of the Society for Social Health & Well-Being to share their best advice for coping with the emotional consequences of this time. Here are their tips for taking care of your personal well-being, that of your inner circle, those you’re stuck at home with, and your community at large.

Take Care Of Yourself

1. Get off the screen.

Have a specific time when you shut off work, thinking about the disaster, or trying to “fix things” and get outside. Breathe. Listen to birds. — Carrie Melissa Jones, community builder, entrepreneur, and community management consultant 

2. Forgive yourself

for pendulum-swinging between connection and exhaustion. It is natural to try to check in with everyone we can, and then it is okay to pull back and return to checking in with ourselves. — Carrie Melissa Jones, community builder, entrepreneur, and community management consultant 

3.Try handwriting

journaling, notes, cards.  Research shows that writing 20 minutes a day for 4 consecutive days boosts our immune system by 51% and the benefits last up to 6 months. —Jean-Marie Jobs, author and CEO of Yellow Marker

4. My biggest savior has been doing fun, playful dance classes online.

I’m either doing something through the 305 Fitness Youtube channel or Good Move NYC Instagram account every day. —Jillian Richardson, founder of The Joy List, the author of Unlonely Planet, and the Idea Queen behind 4 Weeks To Find Your People

5. Mindfulness:

self-compassion, connecting with others, avoiding too much media, grounding practices with the earth, and maintaining routine (regular meals, bedtime, exercise) all help. Regarding Earthing, I see the Earth as being part of our community, not separate from it.  Connecting with the Earth is one of the best things we can do to connect us all.  Here’s more information on Earthing:  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3265077/ and  https://www.earthing.com/pages/what-is-earthing — Jenny Mann

6. For me, what’s helped has been sticking with my morning routine

10 minutes of mindfulness practice and then writing down my Daily Deltas. Working towards 3 highly productive tasks helps me stay out of my stress response, which wants to try to get “All of the things” done. —Alexis Kahlow, founder of Opendeltas

7. Headspace and walking

….and lots of it with my dog! — Chris McCarthy, Vice President, Strategy & Design at Hopelab

8. Do what brings you joy.

If you don’t know what that is, take a few minutes to write down activities you know make you happy, even if they are super short. If you don’t know what these are, track your energy for a day. Put a -2 to +2 after each activity you do. Which ones give you most energy and joy? Do at least one of these each day. Even a walk around the block can help. — Sara Ness, Chief Catalyst at Authentic Revolution

Take Care Of Your Isolation Partners

The following advice is from Sara Ness, Chief Catalyst at Authentic Revolution

9. It’s easy to start resenting the people we are forced into this quarantine with because we can’t get away from them.

We can’t get space from who WE are around the other person. There’s no space in which to hide things about ourselves, and if we don’t take time for it, there’s no time to work through what comes up: reflections of past relationships that get projected onto the people around us. We have to make this space in order to recover ourselves. Imagine there is a window between yourself and others. That window gets smudged over time, sometimes by your actions and sometimes by theirs, until you can barely see THEM through it – you just see the smudges, and a distorted image of the person you used to love looking at. Good practices to clean your glass:

      1. The Work by Byron Katie
      2. “Focusing” (just google the word)
      3. Journaling
      4. Meditation – gratitude and “metta” (lovingkindness) are good for getting out of your own head
      5. Circling
10. Put your facemask on first.

If you get sick, you spread it to everyone else. This includes stress or unhappiness. Do what brings you joy.

11. Co-counseling,

a process whereby people of all ages and all backgrounds can learn how to exchange effective help with each other in order to free themselves from the effects of past distress experiences.”

12. “Emotional slavery

is when you feel responsible for someone else’s emotions, and you start feeling or being affected by them rather than maintaining compassionate distance and communicating love.

13. The Empathy game
  • Person “A” has 3 minutes to share something that’s on their heart or mind.
  • Person “B” has 1 min to share exactly what they heard, with as little interpretation as possible.
  • “A” then reiterates, adds, or clarifies their share for 3 minutes.
  • “B” shares what they felt listening to the whole process, and/or what they understand about “A” for 2 minutes.
  • Feel free to play with the timing, as long as you keep to the format – simple listening, reflection, and clarification is super powerful.
  • When someone starts talking, ask “Do you want me to listen, ask questions, or give advice?” Don’t save, support.

 

From Kyle Zamcheck, founder of Listenly:

14. My isolation partner (my fiance) and I have a really strong routine going together and do these 3 practices daily:
  • Morning nature walks every day! It’s amazing how liberating it’s been to get to know natural nooks of the neighborhood I would have never discovered if it weren’t for this forced isolation time.
  •  A listening session every day (1hr reciprocal listening session, we each take turns talking for 25 min while the other person deeply listens). We set a timer to ensure the whole experience is within a time container and that we know what is expected of us.
  • Special time” is a practice that comes from Patty Wipfler. It was designed to do with kids, but turns out, is really awesome to do with adults too. It’s a time where someone gives you their undivided attention and you commit to do whatever it is they want (ie. if a kid wants to build a fort, or play outside). Of course, it’s within reasonable safety boundaries that you set. My fiance and I each get 10min every night where the other person does whatever we want and we have their full attention. For instance…. Last night, I got a great massage for those 10 minutes, for his 10min we unloaded and loaded the dishwasher together 🙂 

Tend To Your Long-Distance Relationships

15. When you host your friend Zoom meetings, FaceTimes, or Skype sessions,

come with a few questions for everyone to answer. Ask people to share specific stories. Don’t make it a free-for-all the entire time. It can be overstimulating and hard to keep up, thus subconsciously activating overwhelm and sometimes even fight or flight responses. — Carrie Melissa Jones, community builder, entrepreneur, and community management consultant 

16. Long old-fashioned phone call and new-fashioned Zoom; JackBoxGames

— Chris McCarthy, Vice President, Strategy & Design at Hopelab

 

Adjust Your Community Leadership

17. Notice the unconscious autopilot

Relating vs Controlling in the online spaces – practicing mindful connecting, see what wants to happen in the space, and notice the urge to take action and “lead” in uncertainty, when relating and staying transparent is often a more effective pivot. When I asked today “What do you need from me, how can I help,” the answer my clients provided was an invitation to continue to show up imperfectly and authentically and model that – “real” presence. — Kate Pintor, Strategic Strengths coach

18. Opening conversations/meetings with gratitude and future-forward expression.

“Holding the space” to stay laser-focused on mission. — Chris McCarthy, Vice President, Strategy & Design at Hopelab

Conclusion

In an era where staying at home is the norm, it seems a bit paradoxical that self care is so easily overlooked. Just as talking is all we can manage to do for our social lives, there is still a need for mindfulness within our communication. We all deserve an opportunity to check in with ourselves, the people we’re sheltering with, and our loved ones who are elsewhere, and ask “what do I/they/we need in this moment?” We don’t always know, so it’s important to have a list of activities and practices that drop us into the present moment and allow for the exploration and maintenance of our emotional health.