We are living in hard times right now, most of us took a toll on the recent pandemic spreading across the world, and probably will not stop very soon, but isolation might be of benefit for you, other than sitting on the couch all day.
Social isolation can be very dangerous, we as humans are hard-wired to connect and socialise, even for introvert people, but thanks to recent events we cannot do that for now and it can lead to stress, anxiety, depression, and extreme social isolation can even lead to death, according to a 2016 study.
I’m going to speak a bit about isolation from personal experience. I was confined most of last year to my house; I’ve suffered an injury at the end of 2018 and had to completely put my life on stand by, had to undergo surgery and had first-hand experience with social isolation and it’s perils.
Firstly, I became severely depressed, barely leaving my own bed for anything, I thought to myself why did that happen to me? Why did I deserve this? I actually thought I had no place in this world with everything that happened to me. Getting secluded to your room where the only interaction you normally had was your parents can take a toll on your mental health.
Stress and anxiety were off the charts as well, I used to fell asleep thinking about what life was going to bring me next, spent hours contemplating the ceiling of my room at night, unable to sleep, going through various emotions: sadness, anger, and despair were the most common, fantasising about how my future’s gonna be grim, all of that dragged me into a pit of darkness, but it was also a learning experience, speaking plainly, I’ve hit rock bottom.
But now it was time to climb back up and get stronger doing it, to use what I thought was the problem to my advantage. With it, I started using the time I had available to become more productive, what I loved the most was working out, but that was out of reach while injured, what can I do next?
I started looking at subjects that I always found interesting, from personal finance and economy, to foreign exchange trading, something I came across in my numerous researches but I eventually found my passion in psychology and philosophy. I discovered I’m pretty comfortable in writing and maybe I could help people with my experiences, putting it simply, I started doing stuff I’ve never thought possible, and started to feel fulfilled again.
And with the unfortunate times we’re living today, we are forced to become secluded and separated from most of the world, why not use this time to your advantage?
There are a number of studies correlating meaningful work to a healthy mentality. When we pursue something we like or feel is right for us the brain releases more serotonin, the feel-good transmitter of your brain, in fact, it completely normalises our brain chemistry. Although we cannot expect that the simple act of doing something will cure us of all mental illnesses isolation can bring, but it’s a start.
We have to hold ourselves responsible as well, keep training the brain, keep working when it’s hard, that doesn’t mean exhaust yourself but going that little extra mile, have that little bit of willpower to not stop when your brain is telling you to, with time it will get used to it, and it will help you keep going on your pursuit, that is called neuroplasticity, the ability our brain has to adapt to the constant changes in our lives.
Here are some points that will help you on this journey:
- Use your free time to practice something you’ve always been interested in. it could be anything as long as it brings you happiness and fulfilment – learn to play an instrument, learn a language, study that subject you’ve always found interesting, or read some books. There are numerous subjects you can go after and when this is over you’ll be a much more interesting and valuable person.
- Keep a healthy lifestyle. Do not overlook this point, a healthy body is a healthy mind. Exercise releases dopamine and serotonin, two neurotransmitters responsible for feelings of happiness and reward. A healthy diet (for instance, Mediterranean diet) goes a long way to prevent depression and feelings of unhappiness, keep your smoking/ drinking habits to a minimum, especially in these times, it lowers your immune system, try meditating perhaps, it helps control feelings of stress and anxiety, get enough sleep, among others. All of that helps you in a time of isolation.
- Do what’s under your control and don’t think about what isn’t. This is a more philosophical approach but just as useful. It is no doubt we are living in difficult times right now, but there is no benefit for you to think about all the bad scenarios and getting stressed out and anxious by them. Do what you can to help our society, be it volunteering work, donations or simply staying at home, think about it this way: There is a problem, can I do something about it? If yes, then don’t worry. If you can’t, then don’t worry, is not up to you.
Social isolation can be a dangerous lifestyle and we, unfortunately, have to go through it, but if we do the right things, if we look at the bigger picture, if we think about what good can we get out of this evil, we might forge a new and better path in life.
João Caldas is a mental health freelance writer.