This topic was suggested to me via Facebook when I asked my friends for ideas. One of the suggestions was “How to maintain mental health when we are all more isolated than usual” (Thanks Keith!) I’m no expert on mental health but I am an expert on building connections and staying in touch remotely, so here goes.

I know a lot of people who are really struggling with getting comfortable after being told to socially isolate. I’m right there with you. I’ll admit to spending the better part of a week feeling weepy every few hours and imagining the worst endings possible thanks to reading too many dystopian novels. My sense of personal and professional equilibrium was under attack with every news headline that I read. Every day I’d get up and think “what fresh hell will today bring?” which would spin me into some other dark line of thinking. Thankfully, I have a rock of a best friend who tolerated it to point, then nicely told me to get my shit together.

For years I joked that I had the perfect lifestyle for an introverted bookworm. I worked at home and lived in a house big enough that if I didn’t want to interact, I had lots of places to escape to read books and do quiet things. I extrovert when I have to, but it’s not my first choice of how to spend my time. I prefer small group and 1:1 interaction, so not being in the midst of a big city suits me well and I was never one to shop for entertainment and I don’t like movie theaters or big public events, so being at home is just fine. However, I’ll be the first to admit that being told to shelter in place is making me feel super restricted which is weird because nothing has fundamentally changed in my day-to-day expect the bottle of hand sanitizer in my truck for when I do go into town. 

I’m seeing lots of posts from friends about how they are trying to find balance and stay Zen when they can’t do any of the normal social things that keep them feeling connected. All of our distractions have been taken away. I especially miss sports and was really looking forward to seeing the Brewers, watching the Aztecs get into the March Madness frenzy, and the Bucks making the playoffs. I know being isolated especially hard for those who live alone and it’s hard for those of us that are used to making sure our solo friends get taken care of and are included. It’s extra hard for anyone that can’t see their parents or older family members because of distance or because there are restrictions from the facilities, they are in. We want to know our tribe is safe at the end of each day and since humans are social creatures, we have to find ways to stay social and be alone together.

Added onto this is worry about our jobs and the economy, dealing with the loss of routine, being disappointed that things we were looking forward to may not happen, being fearful that this “new normal” may last far too long, and being concerned about how our fellow citizens are reacting and being worried that perhaps there is a grain of truth in the conspiracy theories and photoshopped “black helicopter” photos. 

At day’s end it all just feels like too much and since we are not good at being vulnerable to each other it all stays bottled up. So, what do we do? 

Stay connected virtually

We are blessed that this virus is hitting at a time when technology can help keep us connected. Phone calls, text messages, FaceTime, Zoom, Slack, SnapChat, WeChat, and a dozen other platforms and apps give us quick ways to check in and say, “I’m thinking of you”. I’ve gotten messages from people all over the world checking in on me. In some cases it’s a quick meme in others it’s been a fully baked conversation. I think in times of uncertainty we all feel a strong pull to reach out to each other. I saw a cool Instagram post where friends were playing a board game together over Zoom. I’m also impressed and entertained by now many artists are live-streaming music and dance over the web. These are all great ways to stay alone together. 

The downside of technology is that it’s easy to get sucked into too many headlines and too much of other people’s angst. It’s important to stay informed because knowledge is power but it’s also important to unplug. If your Facebook is filled with people who are triggering anxiety and fear, it’s OK to hide people from your feed. It’s also OK to take a break from social media entirely right now. Only you know what will work best for you but personally I have found the balance is spending less time online and being very intentional about which news I listen to and which people I allow to influence my thinking. 

Find your Zen

I admit I’ve been praying a lot more lately than I had been. I know that many turn to religion for solace in times of challenge so the inability to gather in groups to share a communal faith experience makes this even harder. I’ve seen some cool live streams of religious services in the last few days and people like Brene Brown have taken to streaming faith-based communal things (Sundays at 6pm CT on her Instagram) including music and prayers. Meditation apps like HeadSpace are great and many wellness practitioners are streaming guided mediations and prayers. I’m actually really encouraged by how creative solutions are manifesting from all of this. Whatever you can do to attend to your spiritual needs right now, do it. 

Stay Healthy

As much as we may want to, now is not the time to indulge in comfort foods and numbing. I’ll admit I like good wine and bourbon but now is not the time to dive into the bottom of a bottle. Alcohol weakens the immune system which is counterintuitive to wanting to be as healthy as possible right now. Make cooking and meals a focal point. Even if you are just cooking for one, make it something epicurean and enjoy it. Food is medicine. Healthy food means a better mental outlook and it revs up our immune systems, which we very much need right now. 

Being stuck at home doesn’t mean you can’t exercise. Take a walk or bike ride. Dig out the old rollerblades from the garage and take a lap around the block. Join in an online dance class. I’m actually thinking now is the time for me to do the “Couch to 5k” workout that I committed to 4 years ago and never did.

Keep Busy and Don’t Wallow

Now is a great time to tackle the to-do list around the house. In California at least, hardware stores are still open. Social distance yourself but make a run to get whatever you need to do the yard work or house project you’ve had on your list. You’d be amazed at how something as simple as cleaning out the freezer makes you feel. If you’re like me, you have a lot of unfinished craft projects that could be revived. It’s also a good time to take an online class and learn that programming language or foreign language you’ve always wanted to learn. Dust off the instrument you used to play. Write the novel you always said you’d start. Whatever it is, do something other than obsessively reloading Facebook and new sites. Don’t allow yourself to become the ultimate couch potato, laying around day-after-day in the same clothes mindlessly channel surfing. Being bored is OK to a point if it stimulates your imagination and creativity but if being bored leads to hopelessness and depression, stay busy.

Being “Alone together” is how I’ve started to think about surviving the weirdness of this period in time. Every time I call a friend or send a text or tweet a meme I’m trying to practice being alone together since at this point we sort of know what our next few weeks look like and it’s time to settle in for the journey. Stay connected, find your zen, stay healthy, stay busy, and this, too, shall pass. 

About Marie Watkins

Marie Watkins is Founder and CEO of Polaris Talent Inc. She has 25 years in HR and Talent Acquisition for companies from 2 people to 200K. She is passionate about helping companies find the right talent to hire and in helping job seekers find a job they enjoy going to on Monday morning. Marie is a subject matter expert in entrepreneurship and volunteers her time helping emerging companies grow. Polaris Talent Inc is a recruiting-as-a service company (an RPO) that offers outsourced talent acquisition services to companies that need technical, sales, or leadership talent.  

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