Hacking Isolation: ‘It’s all in your head’

#Stay Home

"Staying in" has to be getting old by now as it extends from days into weeks. The effort is paying off for all of us during the public health emergency, but it is still turning out to be quite an effort, nonetheless. Introverts excluded (there’s one in every family!), all of us are looking for ways to cope with isolation.

A good place to begin discovering effective coping mechanisms is to start with the low-hanging fruit, per se. An approach that requires no extra materials or input from other people is working within our own minds. Some people have done a lot of work toward this already with a daily meditation discipline. They are now reaping the benefits of this practice by having a self-generated way to relieve their anxiety and stress. However, for those who do not have a daily reflective practice, what can we do to handle these strange days we’re living through?

The Guardian newspaper talks about shifting your mindset. They quote Borwin Bandelow, who currently works in Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at Georg-August-Universität Göttingen. According to Dr. Bandelow, the negative effects of long-term physical isolation can be considerably lessened by the knowledge that everyone is experiencing them. Bandelow, who has made a special study of fear, further elaborates that, “As soon as an exceptional situation affects many people, the effect is less strong.” Better living through science, indeed! Although you may be isolated at home, you are not isolated in the current predicament.

Changing your mindset is a very old coping strategy. Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus is credited with saying, “It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” Greek civilization, and the Roman Stoics after them like Marcus Aurelius, had lots of experience dealing with plagues of their own. This touches on another coping mechanism, also from the Stoics, which is to assign the appropriate amount of concern to what you can do something about. In other words, work on things which are within your control. Some things you control completely, like your thoughts, what you’ll cook for dinner, or how much social media surfing you’ll do in a day. Other things you can control somewhat less, like when the lockdown will be lifted in your area, although you can help by following the restrictions yourself and encouraging others to observe them to the greatest degree possible.

The concept of working on things within your control has been immortalized by the ‘Serenity Prayer.” We won’t quote it here, but you can say it to yourself silently. Prayer is a good coping mechanism for stress in our Christian society, but a secular society has embraced another Christian concept as being very effective for altering your mental frame, namely gratitude. The new-ish area of positive psychology, with departments from Harvard to Stanford, have been quantifying with MRI the change in brain chemistry when people try different methods of altering their moods without chemistry or other external means.

It has been found that taking time to think about what you are grateful for, writing it down, or even expressing it to those involved has a lasting effect on your brain chemistry for the good. Lojanos have found their own fun way to put gratitude in action, as a group effort, by making noise, playing music, or banging on pots every night at 9pm (2100) in tribute to the front-line medical and other workers who are still out there providing basic services at great risk to themselves. Even the neighbors who are not directly participating hear the positive demonstration, recall the brave workers, and have their moods lightened a little, too.

What are your mind-altering coping strategies? We’d like to hear from you. Share them in the comments.


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