Technology has taken incredible strides over the past few years but, even with the wonders that are Netflix and Zoom, going for days without seeing another person can be a daunting experience.
With many across the UAE living alone, some in studio apartments without balconies, increasing feelings of isolation, anxiety and loneliness can be rife … and are normal, according to experts such as Dr Vedrana Mladina, clinical psychologist and senior wellness counsellor at NYU Abu Dhabi.
“Under normal circumstances, isolation is not a natural state of human existence since we are wired to be socially connected with others and foster a sense of belonging,” she says.
Those living in the UAE may find self-isolation even harder as they’re disconnected from or worrying about family members living in other countries. Dr Saliha Afridi of The Lighthouse Arabia acknowledges that this can be a difficult time for those cut off from family – but encourages people to think of the bigger picture and stay positive.
“This is a global issue and everyone around the world is struggling. Whether you are here or back in your home country, chances are you would be dealing with something coronavirus-related. Try focusing on things you can control, like telling your family about precautionary measures you are taking and that they should take, and check on them often.”
While self-isolation isn’t always easy, Mladina points out there is a flipside. “Like with any hardship, if we know why it is happening, and if it’s meaningful to go through it for a higher good or a personal gain, we are able to manage it better and come out without major consequences.”
As more than a fifth of the world’s population are being told to stay at home due to the coronavirus pandemic, the knowledge that they are doing their part to save lives and flatten the curve helps. However, how well people living alone deal with isolation depends on the individual’s personality.
“If a person is more anxious about it to begin with, they might reach their personal negativity peak sooner than someone else who is calm and grounded. But we all go through ups and downs in different phases of confinement,” says Mladina.
How to handle self-isolation
Feeling increasingly frustrated? Here are some tips those living alone can keep in mind, according to Mladina and Afridi:
1. Make a routine
This is important, whether you are living alone or with others.
2. Stay connected
Since we are all in this together, we can all relate to each other. Even if someone is in self-isolation, they can stay connected via their phone and social media, and this is crucial during this time. Make use of apps like Zoom and Houseparty.
3. Be proactive
Instead of waiting for others to reach out to us, and feeling lonely or forgotten in the process, reach out to them and make sure they know that we care about them.
4. Make your space clean and tidy
It is easy to let yourself and your home go if you don’t have anyone coming over. However, a chaotic place is going to make you feel chaotic. Make your bed every day and declutter.
5. Keep a space for purpose
This means you might have to repurpose some of your space. Have a place where you exercise, a desk where you work, and don’t try to work from sofas and dining tables if that is not something you are used to.
6. Establish a hobby or a learning plan
An idle mind can enter into negative thinking patterns. Find something that you have always wanted to do and do it. You don’t want to fill your time with social media and Netflix, because it is very easy to fall into that routine and while it might help with boredom temporarily, in the long run you are going to feel worse.
7. Focus on what you can control
There are so many things that are not in our control right now and uncertainty is making people feel very anxious and insecure. You cannot control whether or not you will have a job, or a pay cut – all you can do is buckle down and have a plan for worst-case scenarios. Focus on what you can control such as your physical health, how much money you can save, building your skill set to become more valuable for your company etc. Actions counteract fear, so the more you do, the more in control you will feel.
8. Seek professional help
There are many online therapists and support groups that you can access to help you get through this difficult period.
9. Take care of yourself
Remind yourself every day of things that you are grateful for. Keep in mind that this is an adjustment period and things will get better.
“As much as it's important to fight the pandemic physically with social distancing and staying at home, it is equally important to fight it mentally, by reminding ourselves that our individual actions and the personal struggles we all are experiencing are a valuable contribution to the greater good of our fellow humans,” adds Mladina. “It's worth it and it's not going to last forever.”