Healthy Isolation vs Unhealthy Isolation: A Guide to Understanding and Managing Anxiety and Addiction in Lockdown

24 Apr 2020 - blog

Therapist Charlie Rowley shares tips and tricks on how to manage anxiety during lockdown/social distancing.

Given the current situation there is a global need to slow down and readdress the function and purpose of our lives. Many are grappling with ill health, some are facing the deaths of loved ones, and the mere essence of the present crisis provides a penetrating and violating source of anxiety. As a therapist, I see this as a time that truly magnifies that-which-is-already-there. The plethora of distractions and refuges we seek in our society on a daily basis are no longer available to us and many of us are stuck in our homes not knowing what to do or how to cope. This uncertain time is forcing those of us with mental illness to stare the beasts in our mind square in the face. Lockdown or social distancing challenges us to sit with ourselves and come to terms with the ‘stuff’ we have not been facing; the issues we have left unaddressed or pushed aside. So what is it about this crisis and being in lockdown that unearths our anxiety, or makes louder our depression? Why is it suddenly so much more appealing to drink more or incessantly check social media? Simply put, isolation causes disconnection and, crucially, disconnection causes isolation. Sounds confusing? Let me clarify…

Human beings are innately social animals. When you work with youths suffering with mental health issues and addiction problems, the one thing you learn very fast is that all mental health issues and addictions stem from the same problem – disconnection. I often say in my therapy sessions that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety; the opposite of addiction is connection. When our lives feel unmanageable we often turn to the one thing (or several things) that can alleviate our suffering and numb our pain. Seeing as we feel distrusting of others and seek comfort in unhealthy connections or habits, we push those we love further away, start trying to battle life on our own, and isolate from everything and everyone. This causes a spike in our anxiety levels and further reinforces our core belief that we are alone in the world; not good enough; a failure.

They don’t understand me”. “I’m ashamed of myself”. “Lying is so much easier than being honest”. “It is weak to talk about my problems”. “I don’t have any problems… everyone else is the problem!”. These are things I hear often as a therapist, and they go to show why this lockdown is so problematic for those with a low and vulnerable self-esteem or an anxious mind. We are being forced to re-establish a connection with ourselves, so if we don’t like what we see in the mirror it’s really hard to spend all day inside with nothing but our mental noise to keep us company.

For those who are isolating with others, it can magnify how much the other does wrong, or how irritating they are to be around 24/7; “give me some space!”. For those cooped up with their parent(s) the underlying unaddressed problems within the family system suddenly all surface and we find that we want to disconnect more than we already have been. After all, forced connection can often magnify inherent disconnections between people. Of course, I am only painting the darker side of the canvas. There are obvious and plentiful wonders being brought to light during this global crisis: increased spirituality, flourishing community spirit, and remarkable self-sacrifice. But for the many who are suffering, this article is aimed at you and/or those around you who may be concerned.

Having highlighted some of the issues, let’s discuss some coping strategies and things you can do to ensure a healthy and productive isolation period.

  • Create a daily routine. “If you wanna change the world, start off by making your bed” – Admiral Bill McRaven (Navy Seal)
  • Read a book. Five books I would recommend to anyone: Self-help for Your Nerves – Dr Claire Weekes; Reasons to Stay Alive – Matt Haig; The Body Keeps the Score – Dr Bessel van der Kolk; The Power of Now – Eckhart Tolle; The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck – Mark Manson. Read all five to become a mental ninja.
  • Meditate and practice mindfulness. Find what works for you. Meditating may take time, but it also gives back time. Live in the present moment; it is no coincidence that ‘present’ is a synonym for ‘gift’.
  • Pick up your phone and call a friend or loved one. Tell them how you truly feel and if you are lonely choose to share that. It is okay to show our emotions. Sharing your shame and being vulnerable can save your life; trust me.
  • Eat a healthy and balanced diet. Food is fuel. “To keep the body in good health is a duty…otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear” – Buddha
  • Manage your sleep hygiene. Both too little and too much sleep have been strongly correlated to mental illness. Put your phone on airplane mode, do not drink coffee after 4pm, and no social media within two hours of sleep… feeling more rested?
  • When in recovery, check out a meeting. 12-step fellowships are still operating meetings on Zoom. I know it can be more awkward to do meetings online than it is to do them in person, but needs must and these programs save lives.
  • Journal. Writing down your troublesome thoughts or burdensome feelings can be a great source of healing. Alternatively, write that letter you’ve been putting off to you know who.
  • Challenge your phone usage. Social media can be a wonderful thing, but it also has the ability to feed our insecurities, pray on our fears, and devastate our self-worth. If you are seeking ‘likes’ at this time, why not seek connection instead.

Remember you can’t think your way into new action, but you can always act your way into new thinking. Stay safe. Connect. You are worth it. Enjoy a healthy isolation.

If you have any questions and/or need help, we are here for you. Please contact Yes We Can Youth Clinics +31 (0)85 02 01 222.