Mental Health Focus: Reconnecting and Combating Isolation and Loneliness
by Kristen Milliron, LCSW, Denver Mental Health Therapist
We've been forced as a society into a period of isolation, bringing about feelings of loneliness, malaise, and hopelessness for many. As the world begins to reopen, these are my tips for dealing with the anxiety and other uncomfortable feelings around re-connecting and emerging....
For many people, the now months-long social distancing feels like the movie Groundhog Day, where Bill Murray's character faces a sort-of purgatory, reliving the same day over again every time he wakes up.
I know for me, I would call a friend or family member and very quickly run out of things to talk about, the “what’s new with you” conversations lasted about 30 seconds. As the months went on, those conversations turned into debates about what TV shows or movies to binge watch. I used the “extra time” to focus on my house, yard work was my refuge in the summer of 2020.
2020 was a year that no one was prepared for and that took everyone off guard. For the first time in the majority of people’s lives they were spending more time at home than ever before. People were working from home, or not working at all, children were doing school at home, restaurants weren’t open for in person dining, events were cancelled. Often when you met a new person you were both wearing masks and you realized that you were interacting with someone that you didn’t know what they looked like without a mask on.
A new normal: Navigating the isolation
For the better part of a year people experienced a level of isolation that they had never experienced. Given this, people were experiencing higher levels of anxiety, depression, and loneliness.
People are social by nature and people aren’t meant to be isolated for long periods of time.
As the months went on, people adapted to this level of isolation. Now that things are opening up again, the question is: how do we manage that? How do we re-connect with people? Jumping back into face to face interactions can cause anxiety for many people.
What is the best way to ease back into a robust social life?
Relationships can be the source of our joy or our unhappiness. With some relationships we can pick up where we left off without missing a step. With others it will take time and patience to rebuild the connections.
So what are some things that we can do to re-connect?
Embrace Social Media - Social Media has its downsides and benefits, though staying connected to people has been made possible during this time due to social media and video calls, it is not the same without the physical contact. There is no substitute for a warm hug from a friend you trust. Lean into the positives of social media, and find gratitude for the connection you CAN have.
Go outside- go for a hike, walk at the park, go for a walk in your neighborhood, take your dog for a walk, go to a dog park. Not only will you have the benefit of connecting with people from a distance you will also get the benefits of getting vitamin D and being outside.
Talk to a therapist- The incidences of people experiencing, anxiety, social isolation, depression and other mental health symptoms have increased significantly in 2020. Many therapists are offering Tele Therapy if you are not comfortable going into the office and most offices are re-opened for in person therapy.
Reach out to someone you haven’t talked to recently - Call your grandma who may still be isolated in an assisted living facility, send a card or letter to your niece and nephews, call the coworker/friend that you haven’t seen in person for a few months.
Learn a new skill or hobby- Many companies are offering online/zoom courses. Take an online cooking class, learn to play a musical instrument, take a community college course. Join a local sports team, go fishing or camping with friends.
The most important thing to remember is to take care of yourself and to be patient with yourself. Have a self care routine and practice in your life that includes other people. Check in with yourself, challenge yourself and reach out to friends, co-workers, family or a mental health professional.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and I believe that prioritizing your mental health is a daily practice. Need help putting yourself first? Reach out.
Kristen Milliron, LCSW sees patients in-person at The Facility in Denver, CO and is accepting new patients (Telehealth and In-person).
Learn more about Kristen's Therapy Style here.
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Sources: urgentteam.com, John O’Neill article in psychologytoday.com