Coping with the Stress of Isolation

Woman sipping hot drink while looking out window

Posted April 10, 2020 by UVM Medical Center

As humans, we crave connection and social interaction. It is important for us to stay socially active and connected while we experience and practice physical distancing. Remaining connected to our community and to ourselves is one way we can keep our immunity in a healthy, balanced state. In fact, research supports that our social connectedness, our quiet alone time and affirmative thinking actually improves our immune system response.  

Connecting to Yourself

Before this pandemic began, we were busy all the time with competing priorities at home, work and everything in between. We may have wished for more alone time and now that we have it, we may not be sure how to use it effectively.  This is an opportunity to learn how to enjoy our own company.

We have all been asked to stay at home and socially distance, so now is a great time to turn our attention inward and connect with yourself. This practice of intentionally taking time to be still activates the Relaxation Response which is the antidote to the Stress Response. You can begin this practice from the moment you wake up and reconnect with yourself right before bed. Take 5-10 minutes to sit upright quietly either in your bed or in a chair and enjoy your first cup of coffee, tea or lemon water. This is your time to reflect or just observe the thoughts circling in your mind. This is a time to think about how you want to live your day. During this quiet time you can “plant” ideas as seeds that you want to have blossom in your day. You can say to yourself, “I am at ease; I am strong; I am healthy.”.  

Social Distancing with Family

Perhaps alone time isn't possible because you have a home packed with kids who need to be guided, reassured, and occupied at all hours. Maybe you have other adult family members, such as grandparents, who need a different sort of attention. Either way it may be helpful to have a couple of family meetings around the kitchen table to set the ground rules and expectations for how your time together will be spent. Here's a few ideas:

  • Discuss how people are feeling
  • Talk about what is working and what could be tweaked
  • Make plans for the day
  • Verbalize an appreciation of something or someone that everyone can share
  • Agree upon screen time
  • Choose a time to get outside and do some yardwork together
  • Build a grocery list together
  • Discuss a dog walking schedule
  • Choose household projects that can be done safely for each family member

And, despite their ability to connect us with our social circles and the world, phones should be managed to help ensure they are helping, not hindering, our health while isolated at home. Our society has become so connected technologically that it's actually become disconnected. Family life often takes the brunt of this as we retreat to individual rooms for time on computers, televisions and phones. Even when together for meals or activities, our phones, with their incessant pinging and buzzing, seem to be additional chatty members at the table. Be mindful and take time to consider healthy phone use and decide when taking a break may be best for everyone's wellbeing.

Finding Control in an Out of Control World

We are in charge of how we manage our stress. The more focused we are on developing regular routines to manage our physical, mental and social energy, our stress will be managed as well. Most especially during this time, we should embrace the idea of living more simply an. It is imperative to try to keep our stress levels within reason.  We are in the midst of great change now and it is stressful. How we manage the changes, and our daily life and stress will make all the difference; which is why this is a great opportunity as well. Here are some ways to practice healthy control at this time:

  • Maintain a clean and organized environment
  • Practice good hygiene
  • Stay moving through stretching, walking and exercise
  • Get enough sleep and rest
  • Engage in hobbies and interests

We owe it to ourselves and those we care about to practice these principles. Here's a little homework assignment for you: “Treat yourself well every day in thought, word, and action. You will then have energy in your storehouse to treat others well in thought, word and deed.” Because none of us is alone; we are all here together. Let health be the next contagion.

Evy Smith, LCMHC—EFAP, is a counselor at UVM Medical Center

Learn More Ways to Stay Healthy and Cope with COVID-19