Emotional Health in a Time of Sacrifice
The current global emergency has left us all feeling insecure---a condition exacerbated by an information overload filled with contradictions. The one thing we can be sure of is that we all have a responsibility to make sacrifices.
For many, the sacrifices that have proven the most difficult are those involving Social Distancing. Poorly defined and put into practice in inexplicably different ways from home to home and state to state, it has only added to our confusion. Yet despite our uncertainty, many of us are answering the call to action and staying at home. Unfortunately, by choosing what is right over what is easy, we now find ourselves physically disconnected from family and friends at precisely the time we need them the most. As a result, Americans of every age are suffering not only from fear and confusion, but from isolation and loneliness as well.
How do we ease this suffering? Fear, we have been taught to face head on. Confusion, we can overcome through a combination of knowledge and common sense. But what can we do about isolation and loneliness when the very actions we take are the cause? A little creativity and a lot of resilience are called for in the struggle for our emotional health.
Communication is key. Luckily, we live in an age when it has never been easier or more plentiful. With physical get-togethers out of the question, the alternatives of phones, email, and social media spring to mind. Among these options there are a wealth of choices and some are superior to others.
Phone calls are the traditional way to reach out and touch someone. However, if you have or can get access to video calling, Facetime, or Skype, seeing the faces of your family and friends provides a more emotionally rewarding experience. Even large virtual get-togethers are possible through the use of conference calls and video conferencing apps such as Zoom. Texting and social media apps like Facebook and Snapchat offer even more ways to be in communication with the people we love while feeding our need to be seen and heard.
While reaching out to those we know and care about helps soothe our own feelings of loneliness, it can also be a lifeline for others. Nothing makes us feel more vital than being needed, and in a time when we find ourselves a society of shut-ins, we all need to step up like never before.
Reach out to your neighbors and family using one of the many forms of communication mentioned above, and become a part of their cure for loneliness by volunteering your own time and energy. Be the person your friends can call when they need a little support. Help an at-risk family member avoid the supermarket by adding their list to your own. Or even invite someone out for a walk (with six feet between you, of course). Simple everyday acts of kindness like these remind us that we are all important to someone.
For those who are resistant to accepting help, a more inventive approach may be required. Try giving them the feeling of being needed by asking them to be there for you. In time, that relationship can develop into opportunities for each of you to help the other out.
Remember, be creative. A parade of birthday well wishers driving past your home shouting their love and support can be wonderful. A cocktail hour with your neighbor, while both remaining a yard or street apart, will still help with the isolation. Encourage your kids to “Chalk the Walk” and write inspirational messages and favorite jokes for neighbors to enjoy as they get their daily exercise. You can even consider breaking out the holiday decorations and giving people a reason to do a little safe nighttime sightseeingfrom the comfort of their cars.
Don’t neglect to take care of yourself. Resilience comes from both a healthy mind and a healthy body. Spend some time outdoors, tending the garden, changing your oil, mowing your lawn, or reading a book, whatever excuse you need to absorb some warmth and light from the sun. Taking a walk or some other solitary form of physical activity does more than just keep the pounds off. Moderate regular exercise has been shown to improve one’s overall health and morale.
Sadly, these ideas will not be enough for everyone. If you find yourself suffering from debilitating loneliness or slipping into a deep depression due to isolation, you may need professional care. Government websites such as samhsa.gov/find-treatmentand mentalhealth.govare excellent resources. As is the grassroots organization The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), which can be found online at nami.orgor by calling their helpline, 800-950-NAMI. For those in serious need of immediate help text NAMI to 741741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK. Both are available to provide support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
This crisis, though alien to almost all of us, is not unprecedented. The Spanish Flu, roughly a century ago, gives us an indication of the dangers we face. And the conservation efforts on the Homefront during the Second World War shows us a glimmer of what we are capable of as a people. Today we face a global challenge, one that can only be defeated through sacrifice and care for one another. And though we cannot clearly see the finish line, we will cross it together if we work to ease each other’s struggles in new and creative ways.