Dealing with loneliness in the times of social distancing
Surgeon Captain (Dr) Asif Iqbal Ahmed (Retd)
We are now becoming painfully aware of how true is the statement — Man is a social animal. Not too long back, we used to dismiss it just as a cliché. It took a disaster of global proportion for us to sit up and take note. We have been found to be woefully inadequately prepared to deal with the challenges that have befallen us by the lockdown. We are confined to a limited space when we had gotten used to outings, shopping sprees, get-togethers and the more recent phenomena of staycations to provide us with happiness and contentment. All this has now come to an end and we are dealing with the impact of social isolation.
To add to this is the anxiety about the dreaded virus. As a psychiatrist, I am not going to ask you to sit on a couch and engage you in a long drawn therapeutic process, saying your anxiety is baseless. The fears brought on by the virus are real but the key to those fears are also real and simple enough, if we train our mind. These practical suggestions will prove useful to majority of us and for those of you who are acutely suffering, I suggest reach out for professional help.
Change of perspective
“It is a lockdown you are in and not in a lockup”. In jails, one of the severest forms of punishments to offenders is solitary confinement. Remember, you are at home or at least in familiar surroundings and not alone. Do not look at this as a punishment. It is a noble act that you are doing for humanity since your stay at home is going to not only benefit you but your fellow beings by reducing the dangers of the dreaded infection.
Have a routine
I cannot emphasise enough on the importance of this simple act. You need to have the self- discipline and determination to set up a routine for yourself for the day and stick to it. Little acts like time of waking up, fixed time for meals, limited time for news, periods allocated for leisure/ hobbies/ exercise and most importantly, finishing your work day at appointed time even if you are working out of home, need to be carefully thought out and implemented. In case you do not do this, your days will be haphazard and give you periods of inactivity where the empty mind being the devil that it can be, will conjure up insufferable (mostly undue) anxieties interspersed with hectic activity.
While the fears of excessive internet usage are real with WHO recently terming gaming disorders as an addiction, the internet can also be used judiciously. Smart use of technology can enable us to remain connected with our near and dear ones when we are being deprived of their physical presence. But in the bargain, do not forget the near and dear ones in your close physical proximity, your family members who are going through their own difficult time in this period.
Being together 24×7 can also have its challenges as some reports out of the UK and other European Nations are unfortunately showing increased incidence of domestic violence. It is crucial you act as a source of comfort to those around you and give them the right amount of attention while at the same time providing them their own space.
One great and practical way is to help in household chores and do activities like cooking together. The online time could also be restricted because it can be extremely frustrating for a spouse to find you peering into the screen intently when he or she is seeking your attention
Engage in something new
All of us, at some time or the other, have wished we had a particular skill or wanted to learn something new. But the rush of life prevented us from doing it. It could be something like playing the guitar, learning a new language or writing a book. Do it now
Develop/ finish something from the past that you never found time to do
This is related to the last point. You may have started something but left it unfinished since you didn’t get the opportunity in the busy hustle-bustle of life to finish it. It could be something important like finishing a half- written will or something simple like calling up that friend from the past whom you have been meaning to get in touch with.
Physical exercise is genuinely good for mental health as well. It is scientifically proven that moderate exercise releases endogenous peptides in the body which are known as “happy hormones” that cross the blood brain barrier resulting in improved mood. As an added benefit, it enhances your immunity to fight infections
Laughter is the best medicine. Humour is a great stressbuster, especially the ability to laugh at oneself. We take ourselves too seriously.
Last but not the least is the recourse to spirituality, not only the rituals but the belief in a divine power.
Remember the buzz word is S.C.H.E.D.U.L.E.S.
Schedule your day and schedule your life to Succeed in the fight against Corona
S-ocial Distance: Remember, it is physical distance not social isolation or S–ilver Lining: Look for the brighter side of this situation. Find things to be grateful for.
C-onnected: Not only online, remember to remain connected with those around you
H-abits/ hobbies: They will serve you well in future, after lockdown is lifted too
E-xercise: Will improve your physical and mental health & ability to fight infections
D-iet: Cook together, eat well
U-se time well: This time will not come back
L-imit screen time: Spend some together, some fixed Me-Time
E-ngage in some creative work: It will continue to be a source of happiness for long
S-pirituality: Search for meaning and belief in a divine power
The author is chief consultant psychiatrist, PsyCare Neuropsychiatry Care Centre, Delhi