Isolation and Happiness
Many of us are cooped up in our houses these days. After a week or so of binging our favorite shows on Netflix, and addressing those chores we've been putting off, a lot of us may find ourselves without purpose and without friends to help ease the burden of boredom. Without downplaying the obvious risks associated with Covid-19 I think it's still necessary to address the concerns that social distancing can play an actual physical toll on our health.
Virtually every study ever conducted to examine the link between social relationships and happiness have shown that not only is it important to have healthy relationships; it may be the single most important thing to determine your well being. Studies have even shown that major social isolation during blocks of time such as months to a year can play a direct link to mortality. (View these studies.) So when you say, "This quarantine is KILLING ME," you are likely correct in a sense.
But you need not accept defeat and allow this pandemic to destroy your health, with or without a covid-19 diagnosis. There are many, many ways to cope with isolation in a healthy manner and to actually come out of this thing with a better head on your shoulders. People all around the world spend their hard earned money to go on silent mediation retreats that last from a few days to a few months. These aren't only just your typical spiritual types either. A-list celebrities like Jim Carey, Mike Posner, and Dave Chapelle as well as lawyers, stockholders, and more have all planned an escape from the hustle and bustle of a capitalistic society.
Yes I am name dropping celebrities but whatever I've got to do to convince you to take a few moments and just mediate. Be with your self in silence and focus on your breathe. Let your thoughts come and go and separate yourself from them. In the end, you aren't the thinker of your own thoughts. Anyone who's mediated understands this. You can simply watch how thoughts appear into consciousness and allow them to come and go from your mind while holding no attachment to them.
So if there are people who go to great lengths to obtain this kind of social isolation we are now having forced on us, what makes them come out of their time alone with improved mood, higher well being, and just over all better markers of happiness while the average American can't stay cooped up for more than a week without resorting to drugs and alcohol or just outright not isolating at all?
To me the difference is largely intention. Some people aren't going to like this argument and that's ok. I know some situations are more severe than others and this pandemic may have meant a huge financial impact congruent with survival for some. But I'd argue that even in the most severe of cases, it all comes down to the story you are telling yourself. The ability to find silver linings in a situation can be a tremendous shift in your ability to cope with situations in the totality of your life. This isn't to say you need to lie to yourself about the reality of the situations but at least confront your perception head on and realize that you may be lying to yourself as it is anyways.
Even the CDC has an entire portion of their website dedicated to mental health during this crisis. One of their first recommendations is to mediate and stretch...whats that sound like? That's right, maybe its time to introduce a little yoga in your life :)
Maybe this time of isolation was introduced to you to help you focus on cleaning up your diet, or creating a habit of breathing and stretching each morning. Maybe time with your significant other or your family can be spent to build stronger bonds. After all, everything we think is so important on a daily basis are things we would likely quit immediately if we knew we had a few weeks to live. I'm not trying to downplay the loss of a job, I know that has real consequences. But I'm also bringing focus to the point that maybe the time you spend focusing on all these things comes with consequences of its own that you conveniently sweep under the rug.
There is an old buddhist tradition that is seemingly very dark but can drastically change the way one lives. They say to begin every morning imagining the worst things would happen that day. Possibly your son or daughter will pass away suddenly. Maybe you'll lose that job you've worked for years to obtain. Maybe your significant other will be severely injured in a car crash.
Accepting the reality that any of these things could happen that day could help you to prioritize. Its a way of not waiting until tragedy hits to focus on what's really important but reminding yourself that these tasks you schedule for yourself to keep your mind busy often come at the cost of truly connecting with others and subsequently effecting your own well being.
This is taken directly from the Center of Disease Control:
Ways to cope with stress
Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
Take care of your body.
Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditateexternal icon.
Avoid alcohol and drugsexternal icon.
Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.
Maybe none of these things pertain to you and you are handling this lockdown with great ease. Even if that is so, I feel we could all use a few moments alone with our thoughts to get a grip on what it means to not busy yourself until you can't think. Confronting our consciousness head on is a way to true freedom from within. Allowing ourselves to be separate from our thoughts can be very grounding and help us to be stronger for those that we love.
If you're religious you can use any of these techniques still. There's nothing about mediation or yoga that is considered blasphemous at least in the Christian tradition. You absolutely don't need the idea of God or any sort of religious context to utilize these tools either. In the end, whatever works for you. It's your own path to create.
So I'd like to leave you with a thought.
If you were to receive news that you were diagnosed with a terminal disease and you only had several months to live, what would you change? After the grief and the reality setting in, what would be your priority? Wouldn't you hug a little tighter and for a little longer? Instead of being reserved about you feelings wouldn't you open up a little more? Wouldn't you reveal you truest self to those who love you? Would you continue to lay down your life for a job that would replace you in a week with little to no remorse? Would you spend hours of the precious time you have left glued to the TV playing video game or watching the news? Wouldn't you go on more hikes? Wouldn't you look out at the sunrise with your loved one and really take the beauty in like you never have before?
You don't need the diagnosis of a terminal disease to live this way. The only thing standing in your way is you. It's my absolute hope that we come out of this lockdown with a better perspective on the importance of what are often considered "the small things in life." If that's not a silver lining, I'm not sure what is.