Loneliness – the unseen effect of Social Distancing

Humans are social beings, and social distancing can result in increased stress. Read on to find eight simple things that you can do to stay positive and curb the feeling of loneliness.

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While the lockdown has been eased across India, many people are still in enforced isolation. Social distancing has become the norm, and even those of us who are healthy should not get too close when around others.

This is essential to limit the spread of the disease and protect vulnerable groups from the infection. It is no surprise that large events have been cancelled around the globe. Even regular activities like that result in social interactions have been stopped.

The decrease in face-to-face interactions, coupled with forced separation from loved ones, can give rise to a feeling of loneliness.

The Social Being

From the beginning of history, humans have lived in groups – families, communities, villages. We are innately social.

We know that social isolation has a negative impact on health, specifically it increases stress and slows down repair and maintenance functions.

While it is too early to fully comprehend the fallout of the enforced isolation, experts believe it increases the risk of loneliness.

While this is a temporary phenomenon, the impact of solitude on quality of life and well-being should not be ignored. A 2015 study found that loneliness and social isolation increase the risk of earlier death by 26% and 29% respectively.

The good news is that you can curb the feeling of loneliness by applying certain guidelines. Here are eight things you can do to get through these challenging times.

1. Use technology to connect

Think of ways you can interact with others without putting your health at risk. In Italy, people spoke to others across the balcony or over the fence.

It goes without saying, use technology to stay in touch with friends and family. Use video capabilities whenever possible as seeing someone’s facial expression helps deepen the connection.

Remember that not everyone is equally adept with technology. Assist whoever you can. For example, someone you know may not be comfortable shopping online – find out what they need and place an order for them.

2. Carry out physical activities

Physical exercise is among the best ways to deal with stress. You may have heard of the “runner’s high” one feels after a rigorous session in the gym. This is because exercise helps release endorphins, also known as “the feel-good chemical”.

Even if the gyms are closed, you can find ways to exercise at home itself. Carrying out household chores can also provide opportunity for physical activity.

Many health experts and celebrities are also sharing their exercise routine online to help create a sense of community. You can use them as guidelines for your own exercise sessions.

3. Meditation

Meditation and mindfulness are among the best ways to calm your anxiety and reduce stress. If you have never practiced meditation before, start with 10 minutes of conscious breathing and slowly build up to longer meditation exercises.

You can also use any of the mindfulness apps available for both Android and iOS to aid with your exercises.

As a total beginner, you can start with a mindfulness exercise called “unplugging”. For this, earmark a half-hour period during which you will not consume any electronic media – do not look at your phone, computer or tv.

Instead, observe your reaction to staying away from these. Do you feel anxious? Irritated? Or relieved? Just observe your own experience for 30 minutes.

4. Communicate with colleagues

For many, workplace is where much of their social interaction takes place. A shift to working from home can disrupt these, impacting their well-being.

To avoid this, make sure that you regularly communicate with your colleagues either over the phone or video conferencing.

5. Watch your diet

According to Harvard Medical School, 95% of serotonin in human body is produced in the gastrointestinal tract. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in regulating sleep and appetite, and managing moods.

This means, a healthy diet is essential not just for physical health but also for your emotional well-being. Try to shift to a “clean diet”, that is avoid processes foods and sugar. Include pulses, whole grains, nuts, and seeds in your diet, and see the difference for yourself.

6. Establish a routine with a regular sleep schedule

Forced isolation can make you feel that you have lost control over your life. One of the ways to reassert a sense of control is by establishing a routine.

Set a schedule and fix hours for physical exercise, eating and sleep. Also schedule some time for a creative endeavour of your choice. If you have a hobby, this could be a good time to develop it further.

The longer you are busy, the lower is the time for loneliness to seep in.

7. Spend time in the sun

Where possible, spend between 10 to 20 minutes in the sun every day. Sunlight stimulates the synthesis of Vitamin D, which is central to our nervous system. This not only builds the immune system but also helps control depressive symptoms.

Studies have found that exposure to sunlight increases the blood levels of both endorphins and serotonin. Higher levels of these chemicals correlate with better mood and a feeling of calm.

8. Avoid negative thoughts

Mulling over the various negatives associated with isolation will only cause more emotional distress. The first step to controlling your emotions is to accept the situation.

It is important to acknowledge that social distancing has an impact on our emotional well-being. Do not hesitate to reach out for counselling, if needed. Health Insurance plans like COCOCure provide cover for sessions with a professional counsellor consulted for stress anxiety.


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