Defeating Pandemic Isolation

Effort to connect will reward you with more energy to connect again.

Posted Oct 02, 2020

“I just don’t know how much longer I can go along with these restrictions. My own children are [being] so careful [that] they don’t even want me to travel to see them, but how can I go on without seeing their babies? They change so fast. It has been five months since I [have been] with them.”

Kara,* age 60, bemoans that she cannot visit her grandchildren. Travel restrictions and her own children’s concerns about COVID-19 have blocked her from being with the little ones. I can literally feel the helpless frustration that she holds about missing out on the connections that are so important to her. She wants those young ones to know her, and she wants to be with them to see their milestones.

Emma,* 14, has a different story. She lives with her grandparents, but misses her best friend. “When my friend moved out of state, our parents agreed we could spend a month of the summer together. It was going to be so cool because her new house is on a lake... we were going to learn to ski, and I was going to see her new school. I hate this virus! We have been friends since kindergarten, but now I have no idea when I will be able to be with her.” 

The pandemic has affected many of us by limiting our connections with people we love. It has broken up social engagement with friends and family alike. It has interfered in our participation in volunteer activities that give us a sense of purpose and contribution to the world. It has disrupted access to spiritual communities that inspire hope.

Isolation has been more than simply boring. It has bred depression and anxiety throughout the world. People need people. While some fare better than others with "alone time," isolation still seems to affect everyone.

One colleague of mine, an author, poet, and self-identified introvert—happy with hours to spend reading, thinking, and writing—described the impact. “I am happier than most to be alone at home so I can contemplate my current work. During this pandemic, I have found that without the company of others to stimulate my imagination, to make me laugh, and to help me feel connected, my imagination and creativity are drying up. I am becoming a sort of husk, empty of new ideas. And, I must say, that is depressing. I don’t even feel like myself.”

Kara and Emma are more extroverted, loving time with others because it energizes them, and my colleague is more introverted, becoming exhausted by too much interaction, but all of these people feel the losses that isolation brings, connection being at the heart of it.

Even though the situation has loosened up, with schools in session and some people in particular having more options to be together, none of these people will be able to have the degree of social interaction that they want, and the arrival of cooler weather means even less in-person time for many of us due to having to be indoors.

Andrea Piacquadio / Pexels
You don't have to feel so far away when you make a phone call or connect over a video call.
Source: Andrea Piacquadio / Pexels

As this pandemic is poised to go on through the winter, we all need to nurture ways to interact that feed our sense of connection to others. Those who have been especially depressed by the impediment to be present with others will need to prepare for the likely winter surge and the potential for more stringent isolation. Here are some ideas to promote connection.

Connection When Isolation Is Necessary

  • First, learn and get clear on the reasons for the isolation. Remind yourself of the altruistic reasons for it. If you know there are good reasons to go through with it, it is easier to tolerate the discomfort.
  • Gather ideas for celebrating events, like birthdays.
    • A family living far apart from one other couldn’t be together due to distance and travel issues. Each baked the same cake to celebrate their mother’s birthday and then had a live video birthday party, watching her blow out the candles.
  • Connect the way you would in person.
    • Several families with young ones have found ways to read storybooks via recorded messages and live exchanges.  
    • One grandfather I know does a craft together with grandchildren over Zoom.
    • A grandmother bakes with grandchildren by live video, guiding them through each step, and then they all enjoy eating what they made in their separate kitchens. 
    • A family has noticed that their small children, who have not seen aunts and uncles for a long time, enjoy looking at family pictures displayed in the home when they FaceTime—a reminder of the connection that exists and of times they spent together. “I see me in your house” is the link they need. They are delighted when their uncle shows them the drawings they mailed that are now posted on the refrigerator. 
  • Search online for people who are doing interesting things alone or with their families at home to develop some ideas of how to stimulate your mind.
  • Mark your calendar and set up planned time to connect with friends and family. Having events in your calendar can remind you that connecting time is going to be there.
    • Some easy ideas are “Zoom Happy Hour” and “Zoom Book/Movie Club.”
    • You can also watch the same sports event and talk/text while watching.
    • Consider having a phone conversation with a friend while you both are taking a walk separately, meeting up to walk while staying masked and physically distant, or other ways to be outside in cool or cold weather. 
    • Endless possibilities exist for playing games online and conversing while doing so. You can play digital games like Jackbox, Kahoot, and virtual board games, as well as play physical games like charades, Scattergories, Pictionary, bingo, Heads Up, and trivia games.
  • Phone calls can be more meaningful during isolation than texting, especially for older people. Don’t wait for others to call or text you: Reach out by phone so you hear someone’s voice and ask how they are doing. Try to think of one positive thing to tell them about your life and ask about theirs. This is especially helpful when calling at-risk and elderly friends and family members who have been even more isolated if they are stuck in senior living facilities where the lockdown has excluded them from leaving at all.
  • Walk the dog more often than absolutely necessary to get yourself outside. You might be surprised at how helpful being outdoors and waving to others who are also outside can ease uncomfortable feelings of disconnect.
  • Do at least one productive activity a day, even if it is just making your bed. This action may not deal exactly with a connection to others, but doing something productive can help you feel accomplished, grounded, and/or connected to the world.
  • A family living far apart from one other couldn’t be together due to distance and travel issues. Each baked the same cake to celebrate their mother’s birthday and then had a live video birthday party, watching her blow out the candles.
  • Several families with young ones have found ways to read storybooks via recorded messages and live exchanges.  
  • One grandfather I know does a craft together with grandchildren over Zoom.
  • A grandmother bakes with grandchildren by live video, guiding them through each step, and then they all enjoy eating what they made in their separate kitchens. 
  • A family has noticed that their small children, who have not seen aunts and uncles for a long time, enjoy looking at family pictures displayed in the home when they FaceTime—a reminder of the connection that exists and of times they spent together. “I see me in your house” is the link they need. They are delighted when their uncle shows them the drawings they mailed that are now posted on the refrigerator. 
  • Some easy ideas are “Zoom Happy Hour” and “Zoom Book/Movie Club.”
  • You can also watch the same sports event and talk/text while watching.
  • Consider having a phone conversation with a friend while you both are taking a walk separately, meeting up to walk while staying masked and physically distant, or other ways to be outside in cool or cold weather. 
  • Endless possibilities exist for playing games online and conversing while doing so. You can play digital games like Jackbox, Kahoot, and virtual board games, as well as play physical games like charades, Scattergories, Pictionary, bingo, Heads Up, and trivia games.
Carissa Rogers / Pexels
Getting outdoors can help lighten your mood.
Source: Carissa Rogers / Pexels

Connecting defeats the depression of isolation. While we are all in this together, some of us fare far better than others with filling our lives with reminders of connection and have more energy for reaching out. If you are low on that energy, this is a reminder that effort rewards itself with energy, so every small effort you make to reach out to another person will be to your great advantage.

*Names changed for confidentiality.

The author's upcoming book, Pandemic Anxiety: Surviving Stress, Fear, and Grief During Turbulent Times, will be published by W.W. Norton and be released in early 2021. It will include this topic and much more!