Six months is long time to do nothing. Or what feels like a lot less of everything.
Physical distancing, self-isolation, and quarantining are intended to keep us safe, yet these COVID precautions have also produced an unintended result: intense loneliness; a lingering lack of human interaction that leaves us physically drained and emotionally weary. After my last post, I heard from many of you who are feeling like this. You let me know my insights on ways to cope with loneliness were helpful, and I’m glad.
Yet, here we are.
Still. Spring turned into summer, summer turned into fall, and our humble abodes are starting to feel more like cells than sanctuaries. OK, that may be an exaggeration, but you get the point. We’re starting to feel a little cooped up, just as for some us the snow is about to fly, requiring further battening down the hatches. Just the thought of shorter, darker days inside, isolated, for me is tough. I’ve had bouts with Seasonal Affective Disorder, so I’m working on staying positive in all of this, starting with acknowledging and naming my emotions.
What you may be feeling
In a word: exhaustion. We’re stressed out and frantic for real-time connection. We miss the spontaneity of grabbing a bite, sharing a cold one, or seeing a show together. Instead, there are rules and best practices, the moon and the sun, and a succession of indistinguishable days folding into seasons. Under and overwhelmed all at the same time, we feel like liquid at the bottom of a convenience store cup; our energy guzzled by what we can’t see or definitively know. All we know is that what was once routine and innocuous, now feels incredibly hard:
Lack of motivation. It’s hard to get out of bed, to ramp up and work from home. Finish assignments or practice scales. Or find matching socks, much less put them on. We just don’t feel like doing anything.
Boredom. Listlessness and malaise, two really cool sounding words to describe the heavy sense that some “somethingness” is missing and the only thing in its place is the steady presence of blah and more blah.
Brain fog. Without warning our cognition betrays us. Sharp focus blurs into dark empty holes of fretful communication and indecision; we can’t decide between bagels or toast or put a coherent sentence together. We might struggle to remember names of our virtual cohorts or even worse, our kids. It happens.
Anxiety and Stress. About and over ever-ree-thing.
Depression. Lack of hope, lack of vision for the future, lack of belief in better days ahead. I’ve been there. I know this is a very real and hard place to be, much less emerge.
If any of this is you, I’m here to help, so please keep reading. First, let’s talk about what may not be working and then take a look at what is, at least for me.
How you may be coping
It’s human nature to overcompensate when we’re feeling bad. To try and fill the void with some sort of distraction that we consciously or unconsciously think will make us feel better. This typically results in some form overindulgence, which isn’t good:
Social media: spending endless hours doom scrolling passes the time but it also produces comparison anxiety, making us feel even more lonely. Or we may have developed an on-line shopping addiction. Did someone say socks?
Sleep: too much or not enough sleep are signs something is off.
Eat: We know about the joys of food, and the value of good nutrition, especially during stressful times. That’s not to say that I personally have not plowed through an entire box of thin mints. I have. In one sitting. We’re human and we all have moments, which hopefully, won’t become habits.
Drink: I want to be careful here, but if you think your drinking (or other substances) may be teetering towards excessive, it probably is. Enjoying a glass of your favorite wine is one thing. Bingers are another.
Too much of good thing like food and alcohol can create more problems with both our mental and physical health. That’s why it’s important to manage loneliness in ways that are positive and sustaining.
What’s working for me
Getting a pet, connecting with nature, and regularly checking with family and friends are all great coping strategies. As I mentioned in part one, it’s really important not to let loneliness linger. What these times call for is building our resilience for the long haul, doing what we can to put ourselves in the best position for the days ahead. Here what’s been working for me:
Meditation. I start everyday sitting peacefully with my own thoughts for a few moments. It helps me get in touch with my feelings and begin the day with a clear head. I’ve been very intentional about setting aside some quiet time each day, away from media and other noisy distractions, which has led to…
A social media break. This is a biggie. As a journalist, I like to stay up to date on current events. I like posting and commenting. But recently, I found I was spending way too much time on my phone. In general, technology and digital social connections have intensified loneliness in ways we’ve never seen before, ever. And many of us are feeling the effects. I knew I needed to make a change when I realized I was feeling down as a result of what I was seeing on my social media feed. So, I took a break. For one month I chose not to post anything so I wouldn’t be tempted to scroll, swipe, or check my feed for likes and comments. I no longer look at my phone first thing in the morning and am mindful to limit my time online. I can tell you that a short, one-month social media detox had a profound positive impact on my mood. No more doom scrolling, or comparison-induced anxiety. I feel better and am kinder to myself, more content and at peace.
Exercise. Without my regular bike rides, I think I would be climbing the walls. Riding along tree–lined paths under dappled light, feeling the passing breeze, and seeing the sunlight dance on open water, all remind me of life’s simplest pleasures. Regular exercise and fresh air clear out the brain fog during the day and help me sleep better at night. As the weather turns colder, I’ll start spinning indoors 3–4 times a week to get that mood–boosting rush of endorphins and feel good hormones.
De-cluttering. It wasn’t all that long ago when we were all ‘sparking joy’ and Marie Kondo-ing our homes by emptying out bins and closets. As someone who has perpetually struggled with clutter I think I’m going to use later, I’ve now become tidier as a result of having the time to ask myself just how much stuff do I really need? I cleared out old sweaters, books, donated pieces of furniture, and the feeling of extra space is freeing. Organizing like–things together, especially around my workspace, helps me consistently find what I need when I need it, which cuts down on daily stress.
Fresh food. Earlier I talked about the dangers of overindulgence. I really enjoy cooking and making healthy meals. Sourdough bread seems to have become a staple for many home chefs. For me, cooking with fresh fruits and vegetables is an earthy and grounding experience. A few of my favorites include blending garbanzo beans with tahini, olive oil, cumin and fresh lemon, into an uh-mazing homemade hummus. I chopped up home-grown spinach, fresh basil and tomatoes from the farmer’s market, steamed purple beets, and made a super fresh salad. I roasted sweet potatoes and baked them into a pie with nutmeg and five spice powder. Delish. Aside from the obvious health benefits of fresh food, the feeling of accomplishment when a recipe turns out and the enjoyment of delicious combinations over a shared table are all sure mood boosters.
Gratitude. Much like spending time in nature, expressing appreciation for small niceties like good food, is huge. I start each and every day thinking of three things I’m grateful for. What went well during the day, the meal I ate, my health. Thankfulness and joy are kinfolk, often found in close proximity. The more we express gratitude, the more we begin to notice things in our lives that we’re grateful for: our family, friends, our home, and matching socks. I’m big on socks.
Human beings are wired for connection. We are innately social creatures, yet social isolation goes against our natural predisposition to engage with each other. Again, it’s really important not to let feelings of loneliness, anxiety or depression linger. Talk to a professional therapist, that’s what they’re there for. Reach out to friends. Send those text messages and check in with people you care about. Let them know you’re thinking about them. If you don’t know what quite to say, send a meme or a funny GIF to get them talking. Create a playlist or order a book and send it to them. Get on the phone and make regular calls to the people in your life. They’re probably thinking about you, too. And when you can, meet up in person in ways that are healthy and safe. Appreciate the little things in your life, like nature and rest and good books. I just finished reading Dr. Vivek Murthy’s book, Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World, and I love his take on the power of gratitude:
“Each of us has a lot to feel grateful for. We each have a lot to offer. And when we reach out to one another from a place of self-knowledge and compassion, we have the power to transform our lives and heal the world.”
– Vivek H. Murthy, MD, 19th Surgeon General of the United States, author
Let me know how you’re feeling in the Staying Socially Connected community channel. Let’s talk about what’s working and what isn’t.
We can get through this.
Roxane Battle works to raise awareness and destigmatize mental health issues. Prior to coming to Sanvello, Roxane spent 20+ years as a television journalist, including work as an award-winning news anchor and reporter at NBC Minneapolis, CBS, and FOX.
As a sought-after speaker Roxane presents on change, resiliency, and finding joy during times of transition. Roxane was named an Architect of Change on mariashriver.com and has been featured in Working Mother and Ebony national magazines, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and St. Paul Pioneer Press.
A Minnesota native, Roxane earned her undergraduate degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. She completed her master’s degree in journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia
Her self-help memoir, “Pockets of Joy: Deciding to Be Happy, Choosing to Be Free” (Whitaker House 2017), became an Amazon best seller in multiple categories.
Roxane lives near the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes and has an adult son. Follow her on LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook: @roxanebattle