As an introvert, social distancing is one of my superpowers. I have honed and perfected this craft, while moving through all the challenges of being apart. In this article I share what I have learned about the loneliness, grief and anxiety that come with being apart.
I have often felt that loneliness might be the core wound of the human experience. Rooted in that first moment of separation from the cozy and safe room in our mother’s womb, we are forever yearning for our return. We long to feel connected with another and to feel safe within that connection. As most have come to discover, however, even our human connections do not fulfill the depth of longing we feel to be reunited with that which cannot be named. We are forever seeking the satisfaction to that longing. Existential loneliness is the angst we feel in the depth of that longing. Loneliness is the universal human emptiness that is only further compounded during times of social distancing when we don’t even have our superficial relationships to distract us. The key to dealing with loneliness is to face it. As I learned during a 30 day loneliness practice, our loneliness has much to teach us about ourselves. Here is the practice I employed to arrive at a place of being comfortable in being alone without feeling lonely:
Loneliness Practice: For this practice you will need a notebook or journal to record all that your loneliness wants you to know about yourself. Set aside 10-20 minutes each day to simply SIT with your loneliness. While sitting, close your eyes and bring your awareness into your body. Move your awareness until you find your loneliness. Focus your attention on your loneliness and FEEL it. REALLY feel it. Dive deep into the pit of loneliness and then give it a face. Envision your loneliness in a form (mine takes the shape of the Little Match Girl from Hans Christian Anderson’s tale). Once your loneliness takes a form, let it speak to you. What does your loneliness want to tell you about yourself? Most likely, it will show you past pains and hurts that are asking to be healed and released. It may also show you your fears. As these pains, hurts, fears, etc. come forward, acknowledge them. See them. Hold them in love. Then let the pass. Once they have passed, they have been released from your being and you are healed. Continue with this process until it feels complete. Then record your experience in your journal, along with any thoughts or reflections that might surface in your writing. Note that your loneliness may also show you hopes and dreams that you have not yet fulfilled, or parts of yourself you have rejected or not allowed to come into being. As these come forth, they are showing you the things you are now invited to explore or begin to make a part of your life. DO IT.
As we are collectively experiencing social distancing, our routines are changing. The things we used to do every day are no longer available (yoga class, the YMCA for workouts, the library, etc.). Maybe our work situation has also changed (I know mine has). With this change in routine, it is natural to experience grief. Sadly, our culture does not give enough credit to grief – period – let alone the grief we experience in the simple face of change. Change = Grief. When grieving we will experience every face of grief: Shock. Denial. Bargaining. Depression. Anger. Sorrow. Acceptance. Angst and restlessness will also be faces of this grief in the face of a change in routine. Similar to loneliness, the best thing we can do with our grief is to BE WITH IT. Identify which stage of grief you are experiencing and FEEL IT deeply. Allow yourself to be in denial – to pretend this will all soon go away. Indulge in your bargaining (which might look like restlessness). Pace the floor. Wring your hands. When feel depressed, wallow in it. Take a nap. Allow paralysis to take you. When rage hits you, let it out – in a safe way! Dance it out. Go for a run. Grab a swimming noodle and whack the shit out of the basement or tile floor. When you are sad, weep. And if you find yourself stuck in depression, find a way to get angry (I listen to heavy metal music – my favorite being the group Disturbed). Anger pushes through the depression and allows us to get at the true issue which is our sorrow over the loss of routine.
For more on dealing with grief, please click here.
Fear is a big one! There is so much anxiety around the Covid-19 virus itself, not to mention the anxiety that surfaces in the face of social distancing. I will try to limit the anxiety discussion here to that experienced in the face of social distancing.
The key to anxiety is to first uncover its cause. What is triggering our anxiety?
Is it loneliness (which we addressed above)?
Is our anxiety related to grief?
We may experience anxiety related to our finances or our everyday concerns: How will we pay our bills if our work hours are reduced? Who will care for my child when childcare centers have closed and I still have to work? Where will I get toilet paper? What if I run out of food? What if I get sick? Who will care for me?
We might also experience anxiety as it relates to boundaries. If we are cooped up in our homes with our partners and children or roommates, we are bound to get on each other’s nerves.
Our anxiety may surface due to the news or social media. There is a lot of fear out there and much of is unfounded.
We may also find that the anxiety being stirred in the face of current events is triggering old anxieties and unhealed wounds.
Talk about a can of worms.
The first step in managing anxiety is to understand that it is normal and biological. This means that anxiety is not our fault. It is simply a biological response to something triggering our fear. Sometimes the fear is justified (being chased by zombies). Sometimes it is a mis-fire. (when we look more closely and discover what we thought was a snake is only a stick). Excitement can also look like anxiety for those who are struggling with anxiety or panic disorders.
If you are being treated for anxiety or panic disorders, continue with your treatment plan, while employing some of the techniques I will share with you here.
Meditation and Mindfulness Practices have time and time again proven to be effective in rewiring the part of the brain that governs anxiety and panic. Through regular and diligent practice, the anxiety center of the brain (the amygdala) learns a new response to triggers, allowing the mind to act out of reason instead of panic in the face of non-life threatening fears. Diligent and regular practice also builds a sturdy foundation of inner calm which reduces the incidence of being triggered by fear. To learn more about the many ways that you can practice mindfulness, take my online course Starting a Spiritual Practice which is available for FREE through the month of March. Click on the image below to register and receive the free pricing.
If you are interested in the science behind Mindfulness and Meditation – email me your contact information with “Meditation Paper” as the subject, and I will send you a FREE copy of an academic paper I wrote on the topic which includes a list of verifiable resources. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other practices that support us in managing our anxiety: yoga or any meditative movement practice, dance, exercise, eating well, creative projects, gardening, being outside, going for a walk and talking with our friends. Since we may not have an opportunity to gather face-to-face, do the old fashioned thing of picking up the phone and giving your friend a call. I just reached out to two of my friends for support as together we face what we do not yet know or understand.
As I am here for my friends, I am also here for you. Watch this site for ongoing support as we move through the Covid-19 event, and please reach out for additional support if you need it. One-on-one support. Online classes. Our online community. Books and more.
Holding you all in big love as we support each other through this life-changing event!