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Coping with the Isolation of COVID

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Nichole Warner, LPC

The impact of quarantine and sheltering in place on mental health can be severe. I remember in March and April when people joked about quarantine being an introvert’s dream. I’m not really hearing that anymore. None of us could have anticipated just how long this period, unprecedented in our lifetimes, would last. We still really can’t. We’ve all had to adjust to the way we think about COVID as we’ve realized it’s not a sprint, but a marathon (or whatever is longer than a marathon!) What we thought might disrupt our lives for a few weeks has turned into many months. The pandemic impacts each of us differently, but a common theme I see in conversations with everyone from family to colleagues to clients is the painful reality of feeling isolated. As humans, we are built for connection. The way we need to live right now to stay physically safe feels starkly antithetical to how we are designed as people. The impact of living this way for this long is taking a toll. Even walking on the greenbelt can feel isolating and stressful. I told my partner the other day it just feels so weird to constantly be on guard when in public. Am I too close to this person to say hello, even with my mask on? Will that person passing me on the greenbelt accidentally sneeze on me and give me COVID? If you pay attention to your thoughts, the impact on everyday functioning is profoundly widespread.

We are still learning to adapt to the many unforeseen challenges this time brings. The learning curve is steep; we simply don’t have a previous collective experience to provide a blueprint for how to live right now. I believe this is the basis of the exhaustion many are feeling. We were used to “filling our bucket” in ways that felt good and familiar to us, and now are having to dig deep when we think about how we might fill it now. In the best case scenarios, people may discover new hobbies, passions, and connections with loved ones from afar because they have the time on a lazy Saturday afternoon for that long phone call. The reality for many, though, is that the stress of isolation impacts their mental health in a significant way that impacts daily functioning. If you or someone you care about is experiencing lasting feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or loneliness, please do not suffer in silence. Reach out, encourage your loved ones to reach out. It’s OK to not be OK. Be gentle with yourself and your fellow humans. Isolation is hard. It goes against our nature as humans. Let’s love each other through this with courage and grace.

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