Isolation Doesn’t Work

(Third in a series on steps away from depression. For the last post, press here.)

Sometimes isolating feels like all we can do.

Sometimes everything else is too hard, so we hole up in a safe, comfy place and shut the world out. Our best friends become chocolate, or cats, or beer, or some memory of someone who’s gone.

We’re not alone in feeling alone. A Cigna survey found that forty per cent of the 20,000 adults they interviewed feel isolated. Some isolation has been forced by the pandemic, but this article focuses on our choice to isolate because life out there is too overwhelming and we can’t face it.

Isolating can be helpful for a few hours, or maybe even a few days in a crisis, but too much isolation makes us sadder and crazier. Here’s why:

We Need People, Even if We Don’t Like Them

It may seem easier at first, but isolation leads to loneliness, which has been found to be as damaging to physical and mental health as smoking, drinking or obesity. Chronic loneliness is associated with highter rates of depression, anxiety and many physical health problems. So it’s a vicious cycle: depression driving us to isolate, isolation leading to loneliness, loneliness making us more ill and depressed. It’s a stuck place that we have to find a way to bust out of.

People Give Us Structure

We need a schedule that connects us to the world, especially if we’re introverted. Many have observed during covid that a whole day in the house alone results in an empty feeling by evening. Since the pandemic started, alcohol and other drug use rates have gone through the roof.

Making sure to plan at least one outing to connect with people, even if it’s just to go to the store and ask the checkout person how they’re doing, is really important. If going out is hard right now, make it a short trip and promise yourself a reward when you get home. (Not a noon cocktail though.)

Everyone has their own ideal balance for time out with people and time alone. I could do most of my work from home, but have been much happier since scheduling two days a week in the office of the church where I work. It lifts my spirits to get out of sweat pants, hit the road and have people to talk with on and off throughout the day.

It’s Not All About Us

Going to church, playing a sport or going to the gym, joining others for hobbies or volunteer work – all these things are key to reminding us that the world out there is big and full of possibilities. If we can’t go out for ourselves, let’s do it for the others we go to be with. It’s not all about us. Helping someone else almost instantly lifts our mood.

I often don’t feel like getting up on Sunday, donning a mask and going to church. But the music, the encouraging words, the connections with friends, being part of a community that serves people – all of that results in a sense of well-being that makes the coming week easier to face.

Homework: Look back over your last week. How much of your time was with people, and how much alone? Are you happy with the balance? Someone home all day with kids may crave alone time. Others, especially people who live alone, need to be intentional about inviting friends over and getting out into the world. What are three things you can do next week to keep the balance right for you?

Anything helpful to add? Comment below

Working at Home Survival Guide

Working at home – it’s the best and the worst. It opens the way for flexibility, creativity, self-care and family-care. It also offers every opportunity for us to self-sabotage via isolation, distraction, sloth, lack of structure, lack of accountability, lack of support, unlimited refrigerator access – you name it.

More people than ever are home-based – freelancers, businessoffice-work-1149087_640 startups, people caring for kids or aged parents, retired people, people with companies that let them work remotely. Whether you are doing paid work, caring for others, or living out your retirement, we all have work to do, and home-based work means finding your own way to structure and channel time and energy.

The next seven posts will address this challenge. I long for those of us working at home to flourish without feeling trapped, stuck, overwhelmed or left-out.

I remember  when I tried to write freelance from home in my twenties. I would stare at the dark blue wall of my basement office for embarrasingly long chunks of time, trying to squeeze words out of my circular thoughts to feed the empty page. I fought drowsiness from sitting alone in a dark room and had more than my fair share of naps. Suffice to say I did not get rich quick.

Years later, I’m better at working from home. I juggle caring for teenagers, helping my parents, writing for this website and freelance writing, running kids’ programs, acting in a theater company, and keeping my house somewhat clean. Most days end with the feeling that I have done about the right amount of work at the right tasks.

It was not easy to get to this point. People who are swept every day into the energy of a company or institution, carried by the bustle and the structure and the hierarchy; they don’t know how hard it is to get up and keep doing the right thing all day long when no one else is watching.

I think the first thing we need to do is recognize that working alone is hard. We are social creatures. People left alone go crazy.  Just read the solitary confinement studies.  Research  also reveals higher stress and insomnia levels among people who work remotely. If you have been trying to work productively and successfully from home, you have probably had some struggles. This does not make you a loser. It makes you a human.

So let’s begin simply by celebrating what we get done every day.  This will rarely be award-winning. Nevertheless, review your day when work is over, and acknowledge what you did. For example:

  • I wrote a tough report I had been putting off.
  • I helped my relative with cancer to visit the doctor and have lunch in a park.
  • I taught my kids for four hours without yelling at anyone.
  • I made ten cold-calls, even though I was rejected on the first seven and the last two.

The key is to concentrate on work done, not just results. Making ten cold calls is impressive, even if only one pans out. Maybe even especially when only one pans out.

Celebrate the day’s work with some small ritual that is good for you and helps you detach – a journal entry and a walk outside rather than, say, a triple scotch.

When we work at home, there’s no one else to encourage or compliment us. So let’s do that for ourselves.