In what would normally be my sophomore and junior years of high school, I spent 18-24 hours a day alone and almost never went outside. I was supposed to be home-schooled, but really wasn’t getting schooled at all. This set a pattern that has recurred over and over in my life of severe, chronic social isolation. I know it isn’t good for me. I was about to start regularly going to something just to start getting out and combating it again, but the new virus has everything closed.
I know about social isolation. I know what it does to mental health. Humans are basically pack animals, we are not meant to be too solitary for too long. Even us introverts need a certain amount of socialization or it adversely affects us and sometimes we do not realize the harm it is doing to us. In my experience, one builds up a tolerance after going through intense, prolonged isolation over and over. Yet, even I have my limits. Since many people are experiencing it for the first time, and on top of that many people may be very extroverted by nature and not cope with this as well as us loners, I will here offer some tips on surviving social isolation.
Number one, count your blessings, it will keep you from feeling sorry for yourself. Most of my isolated life, I did not have a computer at home, or just not have internet access at home, because I did not have the money for it. Until fairly recently, I did not have a smart phone. That was isolation! If you are reading this, you do have at least this way to reach other people, so that is something, even if it definitely is not enough. Start making a gratitude list every day, and try to avoid using the same things more than once in 2 weeks. Go longer without repeating yourself if you can. Gratitude helps keep the situation from swallowing you up inside.
Having a purpose helps. You must create some sort of goal, I cannot stress that enough. Initially, you want to read books, play video games, watch TV... It is OK to enjoy those things, but actually they do not work that well long-term. Work works better. Study helps. Spirituality helps, meditating on Creator and the universe, reading and intensely studying sacred text. You need to have a goal, a plan. All the entertainment stuff only works for so long, then it becomes surprisingly depressing. You need to feel meaningful or productive. I still have a job and do not work from home, but it has not always been that way; financial strain makes isolation much harder. It makes one feel worthless on top of lonely. I think we have an instinct, as a species, to connect disconnectedness with threats to our survival, and being alone usually meant you screwed up unforgivably. Purpose is a strong medicine for that feeling.
If there is no paid work for you to do, do you need any? If so, you need to be looking for ways to make money online or from home. If you have a landline, a desktop (or maybe a laptop will work), and a reliable internet connection, there are work from home call center jobs you can look into. People running call centers may still need help, just not at their call center building. People are having to shop online and order things instead of go and buy them in person. Delivery jobs are likely rising in some areas. Above all, there are sites like upwork and freelancer.com, which I have personally used when out of work, and perhaps even others. If you had a business and you can’t have your employees come to work, look online and determine if there is anything you can do with the skill-sets available on those sites, see if you can reinvent and survive. Even if you do not own a business, maybe someone who does needs what you can do. If you do not end up finding work this way, you are working on finding work, and it will keep you focused and more sane. Some of those sites offer low cost or free education in some of the fields they connect employers with workers for. It helps their business if the prospective employees with profiles on their site are well-trained and better skilled, so it is in their own best interests to offer training. Even if you do not land a job, you are trying and the effort will do you good, it gives you a goal to accomplish and meaningful activity to focus your mind on. Without the latter you will go crazy, no ifs ands or buts about it.
Panic will start after a while, if you are alone too much. When it starts to get overwhelming, you have to take a deep breath, focus hard on that breath, encourage yourself to persevere, and find something worthwhile to focus on. Look up “mindfulness meditation” and try it if this starts happening often. Writing is often an isolated person’s best survival skill. Write your emotions out. Journaling is therapeutic and give the overpowering feelings an understandable, manageable form. All these things are coping skills that work well, and are non-habit-forming, unlike use of drugs or porn.
What can you learn online for free? What have you always wanted to to learn, or need to learn in order to make progress on something you really want? Mango language app and duo lingo app are good for learning to speak new languages. It could give you new things to discuss with online connections very far away. Youtube and e-how offer so many ways to learn new things for free, and mass open online courses are often free unless you choose to get a certificate for your work. Try to find something new to learn every day, even just some little thing, it will still mentally help you.
I have had years – not days or weeks, but years – of not knowing when the isolation would end, when I would be able to connect again. The barrier isn’t always external, but is effectively no less real. When I would become literally panicked – because we do that as humans when we are alone too much, even if we are accustomed to it or generally prefer it – I would find a plan or a goal that would ultimately change something in my life that I wanted changed, or something that would make a difference for somebody somehow. For a few years, I focused on my bottom line and what I needed to do to achieve free and clear home ownership. Obviously, trouble connecting with people can be career limiting, and I have been homeless a few times. I wanted to put that behind me, so that was my goal. I did it. I worked until I achieved that goal. I own my house free and clear. Now I have new goals. One of them is breaking the power of this social anxiety/aversion/phobia or whatever it is. Oddly enough, everyone else being cooped up has made others easier to talk to, and not just online. I have not had any face time online, I usually cannot handle that. The way things are going, before this crisis is over, I may have even tried it.
Look out for your physical health. Eat healthy as you can, do a few sit-ups or squats or push-ups daily, or alternate them every day. Drink plenty of water. It is amazing how much those things help. I think your body thinks you are in danger of dying because your village is not there to help sustain you, and it makes it much harder to stay sane if you truly aren’t receiving what your body needs. I wish I had known this when I was younger, and I wish I had known how much impact it has on mental well-being, but I know now and must develop the habit. Those unaccustomed to isolation should be even more focused on this because you need every resource you can get right now in order to cope.
The best thing I can say about serious isolation time is, do not waste it. Make something out of this nightmare. Learn something. Grow somehow. Use the internet to find a way to lift someone up, even if maybe you feel like you can’t lift yourself; it comes back around to you when you do that. Do not worry about when it will stop or whose fault it is, just keep your mind on something good or a problem you can pursue a solution to. Vent your feelings honestly, the answer yourself, in writing with encouragement. Practice mindfulness. Use this opportunity for growth to achieve something you could not if you did not lose your job (if you did), or without having to be stuck inside for however long. The same is true for social isolation with internal causes as opposed to external causes – do not waste it, find a way to make something out of it.