Dear Friend….

We continue with our new blog series, ‘Dear Friend…’ where volunteer and blogger Kara will be answering some of the mental health and wellbeing questions we have during this challenging time.

‘I’m really struggling with self-isolation and feeling lonely. What can I do to keep myself (and my mind!) busy?’

Hi Friend. Thank you for getting in touch with us.

First off I really want to reassure you, that feeling lonely right now is completely understandable. Human beings need connection. We have an innate biological need for social contact with others, without this our mental and physical wellbeing suffers. Interestingly enough, what we really need for our mental health is quality over quantity. A person with one or two meaningful sources of connection can often be less lonely than someone with a vast social network.

Now to your question: can you lessen your feelings of loneliness while self-isolating?

My first thought is, do you have ways of connecting with others that you can explore? For those of us that have connections in regular life but are feeling lonely with the new ‘normal’, it may be that just a small adjustment may help us keep the connections we already have.

Try a video chat perhaps, available via Skype, Facebook Messenger, or WhatsApp. Newer platforms like Zoom or Houseparty (the app) means you could also play virtual games together. Or an old-fashioned phone call or letter to an elderly relative that would love to hear from you, could put a smile on your face?

It might be a good idea to use this time to strengthen weaker connections, perhaps turning a colleague or an acquaintance into a friend. At Second Step, we have turned our wellbeing colleges into a virtual service. One of our short sessions relates directly with what I am saying here. This exercise helps to expand our social connections, so do check it out!

Social media used in the right way is a great resource.  Another connection tip is finding a positive online community. This could be hobby-based. For example, we keep snakes and spiders as a family. My husband uses Facebook to connect with other people doing the same thing, and my daughter uses an ASD group You may well find someone to develop a friendship with using this technique.

I also highly recommend from a mental health perspective to ‘clean up your news feeds’ so you can make sure social media benefits (and doesn’t hinder) your mental health. Stay abreast of the news if you need to, but once a day is adequate. A news programme or official site rather than sensationalised or repetitive sources. I loved this quiz from Young Minds mental health charity. I feel it is relevant to any age group that wants to use social media in a positive way not just for teens.

I think we all need to support our mental wellbeing in other ways too. This is a question of balance; to stay ‘busy’ as you have put it… is to stay productive, creative, relaxed and to have some fun in addition to these aspects.

A routine – Get up and dressed (even if it is fresh pyjamas), eat healthy meals, do the housework.

Creative or educational pursuits – Everyone is different so this could mean keeping a journal, writing poetry, learning to play a song, colour by numbers, cooking new recipes or an online course. The act of achieving is good for the positive brain chemistry.

Stay active – An hour’s walk or run, a YouTube exercise class or a fitness DVD. It doesn’t have to be boring, there’s everything from boot camp to belly dancing online. This week I learnt a tiktok (app) dance with my eldest daughter which was fun.

Relaxation and mindfulness – Explore these techniques as they are particularly helpful when dealing with stress and anxiety. This is one of our Second Step sessions, simple and effective, a three minute exercise designed to bring some calming sensations to your brain. There is a wealth of mindfulness exercises online.

Second Step aims to support your mental health and wellbeing during this difficult time. Do check in with our website regularly to make sure you see our latest online sessions and content!

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