Over the course of the pandemic, I’ve lost touch with the family and friends who had been an important part of my life. Although I miss them and want to reconnect with them, thinking about doing so makes me feel anxious and afraid. How do I deal with this lingering fear of connecting with my loved ones again?
The COVID pandemic has brought about the need for social distancing, quarantine, and isolation to protect the health of our vulnerable populations. Unfortunately, this isolation has created what Michael L. Stallard, and Katherine P. Stallard, 2020, refer to as an “epidemic of loneliness”. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that loneliness can contribute to an increase in stress and anxiety. According to the Stallards, we shouldn’t ignore our “primal human need for social connection as it appears to improve our performance of the cardiovascular, endocrine and immune systems, which can help reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19”. The neuroscientist, Matthew Lieberman, refers to connection as “a superpower that makes humans happier and more productive”.
In an article entitled, “How to Be Sensitive to Your Mental Health During COVID-19”, 5/21/20, licensed therapists Lindsay Potts and Trisha Palencer, state that it’s important to understand that anxiety is a normal response to the pandemic. With the vast amount of changes we’ve had to process and deal with, it can leave one feeling overwhelmed. The social isolation and lack of connection to others can exacerbate these feelings.
The American Psychological Association’s 2021 “Stress in America” report states that “nearly half of Americans say they feel uneasy thinking about in-person interaction once the pandemic ends”. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to manage your feelings of loneliness and anxiety and move towards reconnecting with others. Potts and Palencer, 2020, state that one of the first steps you can take is acknowledging your feelings and realizing that they are a normal response to the changes brought about by the pandemic.
Taking small steps and using caution when reconnecting with others can be helpful in managing your anxiety and fears. In his article entitled, “Why We’re Scared for the Pandemic to End,”Dastagir, 2021, states that the worse thing we could do is completely avoid things causing us anxiety because avoidance can work in the short term but it impairs us in the long run”. When avoidance becomes our go-to for dealing with anxiety, it can actually reinforce feelings of fear and anxiety.
As a way to manage your fear and anxiety, it’s helpful to develop and adhere to a daily routine. Having a routine in your life adds structure and a measure of predictability. Predictability contributes to feelings of safety, relaxation, and calm. Don’t forget to include in your daily routine eating a healthy diet, getting some exercise (preferably outdoors), staying hydrated, and practicing good sleep hygiene. Although getting good sleep is difficult when experiencing stress and anxiety, it’s a critical function in managing those feelings. I find it helps to try different ways to relax before bedtime. Many benefit from the use of aromatherapy products, especially lavender, as it has a natural calming effect. There are also phone apps you can listen to at bedtime that promote feelings of relaxation and aid in falling asleep.
In our quest to stay updated on what’s happening around us, we’re often glued to our televisions, phones, computers, etc. With all the negative things we come across while staying informed, allowing your brain to unplug and take breaks can help quiet your feelings of anxiety and stress and cultivate more positive feelings. You can do this by taking meditative walks outside while focusing on how your five senses are experiencing nature. If you’re artistically inclined, try using your talent in this area to express your feelings. I often recommend journaling to both express and process feelings as this can lead to new and creative ways to address our present situation.
Making a concerted effort to reach out to friends and family in other ways can help mitigate feelings of loneliness and anxiety and move you closer to venturing out to reconnect. The use of social media can offer new and creative ways to have the meaningful human connection we crave. I feel it’s important to use those sites that offer ways for you to not only see your loved ones but to also hear their voices. Although texting is a convenient way to communicate with others, it lacks the essence of that human connection. Using Zoom or Facetime can offer the kind of connection that you need to feel closer to your loved ones as you can see and hear them in real-time. You may want to develop a consistent schedule to spend time with your loved ones this way as it offers you something to look forward to. Don’t hesitate to be creative when using these sites. You could plan a game night, a cooking event, or an exercise session as a way to make connections with others. Attending church services and support groups online are additional ways you can connect with and get support from others.
If you continue to struggle with the level of stress, anxiety, and loneliness that inhibit you from truly participating in your life and in the lives of your loved one, seeking professional help is a viable option. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable enough to ask for help is a strength – a strength that can offer an opportunity to heal from the losses inherent in our new normal.
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