This year has been difficult to say the least. Working from home, not being able to enjoy hobbies, and limited in-person interactions is a perfect storm for feelings of social isolation. We have all been affected but in different ways. If you’re looking to combat the emotional strain of the pandemic, keep reading to learn my story and how I’ve found ways to stay connected.
March 13, 2020, friends from out of town came to Pittsburgh to visit and play tourist for the weekend. We had just moved to the Strip District and made grand plans. The Home and Garden Show was at the Convention Center. The Senator John Heinz History Center had a new exhibit. Eleven, our favorite restaurant, was getting ready to switch from their winter menu to their spring menu. And we were hoping to have breakfast at Pamela’s at least once!
Little did we know when we made our plans, that the world as we knew it would come crashing down that weekend. We made it to Pamela’s, but that was it. And, when we showed up for breakfast early Saturday morning, the staff was busy moving tables and chairs to create space (or distance) between them. The next day, every restaurant in the city closed, as did the museum and the convention center, and, well, pretty much everything except for the stores selling groceries.
On their way out of town, our friends purchased food to last a couple of weeks, thinking that’s all the longer we would need to be locked down. We said our goodbyes, fully confident that we would see our friends who are considered family the following month, sure that we would be able to stop by their home for a visit as we traveled to the other side of the state for a family birthday.
We were so naïve, never imagining that it’d be a long year and 8 vaccinations before they would once again visit Pittsburgh. And in that year, all vacations, family gatherings, birthdays, graduations, days at the zoo, anniversary parties, weddings, and work would be canceled or postponed or virtual. And, as much as I love my husband and enjoy his company, life without family and friends was hard – and I mean, really hard. Social connections, with family or friends, or co-workers, are such an important part of my life. The isolation was a real struggle and, along with most of the rest of the world, I found myself feeling lonely, anxious, and completely stressed out.
I was not alone in my loneliness. Social isolation is defined as a lack of social connections, interactions, contacts, and/or relationships. And a large part of our population has experienced feelings of isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the medical journal The Lancet, even relatively short periods of isolation can have long-term effects on a person’s psychological well-being, often resulting in feelings of anxiety, depression, and stress.
How to Combat Social Isolation
Fortunately, or unfortunately, we are all in the same boat, struggling with similar feelings and unsure what to do next. Even as the vaccine is increasingly available, the COVID variants are making social distancing a necessity. I do realize that many are eager to jump headfirst into life as it used to be now that the pandemic risk is decreasing. But for some of us, it seems like life will never be the same.
In the meantime, each of us will be working to find a new normal – one where we’re comfortable and feel safe. For some of us, that may mean that we continue to wear a mask. For others, we may continue to socially distance. And we may still struggle with feelings of isolation and stress. So what do we do to combat it?
#1 Ask for Help
First things, first. It’s important to realize and acknowledge that we need help. Feelings of isolation affect more than just our mental health. They also impact our physical well-being and may result in heart disease, sleep disorders, or high blood pressure. Reaching out to medical and/or mental health professionals is key. Needing help is nothing to be ashamed of and resources are available.
#2 Stay Connected Safely
Second, stay as connected as possible – safely, of course. I have to confess that I never really liked eating outdoors. However, the pandemic made it a necessity that I now thoroughly enjoy. And it’s one way I can get out and enjoy the company of others. Exercising outside with a friend is another great way to be with humans AND de-stress. Do you live near a park where you can walk with a friend? Can you meet a co-worker or client for an outdoor meeting? Is it possible to have your anniversary party at a picnic pavilion instead of a restaurant? It may take some extra planning but getting together (masked and distanced) is possible and necessary!
#3 Understand That You’re Not Alone and Reach Out to Others
Third, we are in this together. People across the globe are experiencing the same feelings of sadness and frustration. Sometimes, understanding that you’re not alone is all it takes to get through to the other side of isolation. Knowing that we’re all experiencing the same thing to varying degrees leads me to my final suggestion: reach out to people you haven’t heard from in a while. Check-in on family and friends. Attend that after work virtual happy hour. Offer to meet your sister for a walk. As we learn to adapt to our new normal, take the time to do something for someone else. Activities meant to help others can also reduce your feelings of loneliness – a win/win in a challenging situation.
Finally, one of our core values at Rise Pittsburgh is “Service.” We are committed to serving others and positively impacting the world where we live and work. Any member of our team would drop everything to be there for you. Please know that we are here and ready to help, in any way. And in the meantime, please click HERE for a list of resources available to all who may need to make connections and meet new people.
About the Author
Dana Bice is an industry leader in workplace and talent strategy, change management, and maximizing employee and organizational effectiveness. She has experience with office, retail, medical and industrial projects as well as being well versed in process management. Her strengths in financial analysis and aligning talent, culture, and space allow her to implement successful, comprehensive plans for any business. Dana is interested in anything Apple, singing, reading, and spending time with family and friends.