Isolation Sanity 4/10/20

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

Speaking with a friend today, I’ve come to realize that isolation might be easier for me than for her. See, I’m single, living in an area with very few friends, estranged from my family all of which means that my entire life is lead as an introvert and isolated. Not that I want it to be as such, but that’s the way it is. On the other hand, she has several children, is very close to her siblings, loves spending time with her grandchildren, makes a beeline to her friends in stores so they can chat and is very social. For me, well, I can’t eat in the fast food joint that I frequented before the outbreak. She has lost all of those interactions.

This made me realize some harsh truths for isolation that are true for others, even if it’s little more than a minor lifestyle change for me. The lack of these normal everyday interactions hurt and can lead to depression and, frankly, health risks due to stress and chemical changes. Let’s be honest here; isolation is far less difficult today than it would have been, say a hundred years ago. In 1915, the first trans-continental telephone wiring was put in place, but there were only about six million telephones at the time. A hundred years ago, you could make a telephone call if you were fortunate enough that both you and your intended recipient actually had a phone, and it was quite expensive. The concept of long-distance charges changed with cell phones, in fact, it would not surprise me if young people didn’t even realize that there used to be an additional charge for long distance calls. Today, phone ownership has expanded to the point that often every member of a family has their own cell phone at very early ages. In addition, email has replaced regular mail, and sadly, texting is encroaching on speech. Better than that, though, with so many means to video-chat, it’s easy to at least see the face of your loved ones as you speak with them real-time, something that was relatively uncommon even at the turn of the century (which, if you recall, was only about twenty years ago).

While all of this modern technology certainly helps making self-isolation less painful than it would have been in the past, it still cannot replace simple acts of hugging, holding hands, sitting close enough to be in physical contact or to put your arm around another, or even touching somebody on the shoulder. These are forms of communication, and of critical importance for mental and physical health. Touching (something I’m always lacking in my life) releases endorphins, hormones that have been demonstrated to be able to reduce pain, fight depression, lower blood pressure and a myriad of other positive effects.

Whether people understand why it should be so or not, there is likely to be a dramatic increase in depression because of isolation. It’s important to remember that there are ways to mitigate this depression. If someone is fortunate enough to be isolated with their significant other, remember to touch each other. Hold hands, hug, even more than usual. Sex is a great way to release a burst of endorphins not only from touch but from the act of love as well.

Long hot showers have been shown to help alleviate depression. Thunderstorms occur when warm moist air rises creating friction with the atmosphere, creating ions in the form of static electricity. Showers do the same thing. Don’t look for sudden bolts of electricity, but the friction between the running water and the air creates a similar very small static charge (ions). These ions have been shown to help reduce depression.

“Isolation” is a little bit different for adults than it is for children. Unless you have an enclosed lawn, it’s probably not a great idea to let kids out to “isolate” in your yard, because it’s hard to control the children and their urges. If a child sees a friend, they could easily take off running to give their friend a hug, and the isolationist curtain has fallen. As an adult, however, you know better. “Isolating” doesn’t necessarily mean “stay in your own home”, but rather, avoid other humans. Don’t go anywhere that is likely to draw crowds (some stores are seeing an increase in foot traffic today which I attribute to people becoming stir-crazy), but it should be fine to go walking in your neighborhood. If you see somebody else (even a friend), just be sure to give them a wide berth. Yes, smile, say hi, wave, even chat for a bit but from a safe distance. This does a couple of things for you. First of all, physical exercise also releases endorphins that fight depression. In addition, being in the sun, you will produce vitamin D, another critical chemical for fighting depression. Just be sure, even if you don’t think you’ve touched anything, to wash up thoroughly when you get home. In fact…take that hot shower!

You got this. Stay safe, stay healthy, help others to stay healthy. We can do it together.

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