Overcoming the Loneliness of Isolation

Overcoming the Loneliness of Isolation

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With social distancing in place across the globe, it’s a scary time for people in recovery, especially those who are in early sobriety. 

“We know that recovery demands connecting authentically with others,” says Geoff Thompson, program director at Sunshine Coast Health Centre, a rehab in British Columbia, Canada.

While you might not be able to go for a run or meet for lunch, you can still stay connected to your community throughout this period of social distancing. Here’s how to build connections and overcome the loneliness caused by the pandemic. 

Recognize the Difference Between Being Alone and Being Lonely

Many of us are isolated from friends and family right now. Since addiction is a condition that thrives in isolation, this can be triggering. It’s important to recognize that being alone because of social distancing isn’t the same thing as being isolated because of your addiction. 

“Those vulnerable to addiction typically experience loneliness at an existential level, as a threat to their very being,” Thompson says. “This existential loneliness is a deep and pervasive anxiety that each of us is separate from every other human being.”

For example, you might think that no one has ever been through what you’re experiencing, or that no one can understand your life. 

That’s almost the opposite of what’s happening right now. Although we’re all socially-isolating, nearly everyone in the world is being affected by the coronavirus right now. A popular saying has sprung up: “Alone, together.”

Remember, although you might be physically alone right now, you are experiencing the same thing that many other people are going through. Just knowing this can give you a sense of belonging, inclusion and solidarity. 

“Social distancing, by itself, does not create this existential loneliness,” Thompson says. 

Create a Routine

Loneliness and isolation can take a toll on mental health. Having a routine, on the other hand, can boost well-being. So, even if you have no obligations right now, establish a loose routine that will provide structure to your days. This is especially important if you have kids in the house. 

“Its pretty much a necessity to establish new routines now that many are stuck at home,” Thompson says. When you’re thinking about your routine, Thompson recommends taking advice from former astronaut Chris Hadfield, who has a four-part approach to confronting isolation:

  • Understand the risks
  • Figure out what your purpose/mission and obligations are
  • Be aware of the constraints facing you 
  • Take action

“These steps are, of course, how astronauts take responsible action, and do not allow anxiety to dictate their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors,” Thompson says. They can also serve everyday people during isolation: understand why you’re isolating; identify what you have to get done; acknowledge the challenges; then get to work. 

Your mission, so to speak, might be as simple as keeping yourself mentally and physically healthy. That’s entirely ok. 

Build Genuine Connections

Although you can’t get together in person, you can build genuine, deep connections during this time. Video chat with friends or family who you might normally just text. Or, connect with neighbors who need a bit of extra support during this time. Volunteer to help support your recovery community virtually. 

Many people in recovery don’t have experience with these types of genuine connections, so now is a great time to build your skills. 

“Research indicates that this authentic connection is something that those vulnerable to addiction have little experience with,” Thompson says. 

He recommends trying the following:

  • Volunteer: Make masks, walk dogs at a local shelter, or ask your neighbors if they need anything from the store next time you go shopping. 
  • Keep positive: Post something light-hearted online, decorate your windows, or just smile and wave next time you’re on a walk. 
  • Read: “I know several people in recovery who are reading books written by someone in recovery. There is a personal touch in this activity because the reader learns about the author. Eric Claptons autobiography is one of my favorites,” Thompson says. 

Although we have to be isolated right now, we don’t have to be lonely. Recognizing that difference and building genuine connections during this time can help you become stronger than ever.

Sunshine Coast Health Centre is a non 12-step drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in British Columbia. Learn more here

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