– Submitted by University of Mount Olive Psychology Department Chair Natalie Kemp, MA, LPA –
How was your day son?
What do you mean?
Mom, I can only see half the kids in my class that also have a last name at the end of the alphabet like me because they cut all our classes in half. The people who have been my friends for years go on opposite days of me so I can only communicate with them on my phone. Of course, when I try to use my phone, an adult yells at me and says I am so disconnected and should put my phone away. Right now, it really is my only lifeline. Anyway, when we get to school, everyone is wearing a mask and sitting at least six feet away from each other- even at lunch. So, it is awkward and silent most of the day. How about you? Looks like you changed up the yoga pants and sweatshirt today. How was work?
Yeah, I guess I sort of miss getting dressed up for work. There doesn’t seem to be much of a point as I am here working at the kitchen table all day now since my company had us start working remote back in March. Now, they realize that they are saving a lot of money on overhead so, I am not sure if we will ever go back. My day is pretty silent too and I never realized how much I would miss talking to my friend in the cubicle next to me in between phone calls, or going out to lunch with my coworkers and hearing about their lives. We text a little now and then, but it is just not the same. I really do feel disconnected and isolated too I guess.
Unfortunately, this scenario is all too true in our society today. As strict COVID 19 regulations have been enforced, many people are feeling more and more isolated, and this isolation is leading us down a dangerous path to a major mental health crisis. It has been reported that referrals for mental issues are on the rise and even pediatricians are having a hard time keeping up with the demand. Children will often express their stress in physical ways such as frequent headaches, stomach pains and sleep disturbances. Some of these psychosomatic symptoms are cries for help and attention in a world that has become quite silent and isolated. Many counties in NC have not returned to school, but those that have look much different this year. Here are five productive ways to help combat that silence and isolation for your family:
- Use social media in a productive way to reconnect with people you may not have seen in a long time. Don’t settle for isolation! Sometimes it is easy to spend hours just scrolling through and looking at the lives of others. Instead of just peaking and comparing, send a message and ask how someone is doing. Start a real conversation and find out more about their lives. Decide to be the one to start that group chat with a few people you used to see regularly. Use this time to reconnect with childhood friends, high school buddies, or find that long lost college roommate that seemed to disappear after graduation. A positive word of encouragement may be just the thing that someone else needs to hear today.
- Don’t get comfortable hiding behind the mask. Just because everyone has to wear a mask, it should not be an excuse for not talking anymore. You can still strike up a conversation with the cashier at the store, the waitress at the restaurant, and the person that is six feet away from you at school. Students are getting too comfortable not talking in middle and high school and when asked to respond, they might say they are developing social anxiety because they are getting used to the silence. This is not the future we want for our kids! Encourage youth to physically speak to those around them and not be so comfortable to constantly retreat to their air pods and watching videos on their phones alone.
- Don’t forget to check up on the elderly and family members that live alone. Most people in nursing homes and assisted living facilities have been behind closed doors for almost a year now. Be creative in reaching out to them via FaceTime, phone calls and even snail mail. Kids can draw pictures or write cards and send them to loved ones as a physical reminder that they are loved and not forgotten. Remember those family members who have been spending holidays alone and create times that you can meet by video or send care packages to remind them that they are loved and not forgotten.
- Get out and exercise! The fresh air is so good and the sun is a natural source of vitamin D. Also, being outside is free and you don’t need any fancy equipment. Go for a walk with a pet, do some gardening in your yard, or just sit and watch the birds fly from tree-to-tree. It is easy to get into a rut of binge watching your favorite shows, but this is not physically or mentally good for the long term. For example, exercise can have a positive impact on the serotonin levels in your brain. This increase in serotonin helps improve your mood and overall sense of well-being which leads to less depressive thoughts and constant worry. You can choose to get up and out to break that negative cycle that easily creeps in.
- Think positive and don’t give up hope! It is a natural cycle that our thoughts determine our actions. When our thoughts are full of stress, worry, and fear, our behavior will follow that path. Getting out of bed seems like a chore, connecting with people is uncomfortable, and thinking about the future seems overwhelming. Do not let yourself or those around you fall into that trap and cycle of negativity. Fill your headspace with positive thoughts and ideas. Listen to music that is uplifting and makes you want to dance. If the news leaves you feeling anxious- turn it off! If something major is going to happen, someone will definitely let you know. You have a choice in how you react to your circumstances around you. Don’t let yourself drown in the silence and isolation. These regulations may not go away for a long time, but we can overcome and choose to find joy in our circumstances today!