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The Taming of Social Distancing

Loneliness vs. Solitude

Image by Anthony Tran from Unsplash
Image by Anthony Tran from Unsplash

Let’s pretend for a moment. Let’s pretend that our current need to socially distance ourselves is a choice and not an imposition placed on us by a novel virus. Let’s pretend that our self-isolation is something we’ve meant to do for a while, but never got to it because we were always too busy. Let’s pretend that this isolation is an opportunity to get to know ourselves better, reconnect with our intuition, achieve inner calmness, and evolve as a being. Is all of this too much to ask? Maybe, but what if we could shift our mindset and consider our current social distancing an opportunity for solitude rather than loneliness?

I know I’m asking for a lot, but reconfiguring our reality to better serve our needs and mental wellbeing is not science fiction. It’s a skill that can be mastered with training and inner strength. It’s not easy, but it’s doable, and the benefits are worth it.

Social isolation in the magnitude we are experiencing today is unprecedented in modern history, and its effects can be dire. Prolonged isolation of this kind can lead to extremely negative consequences on the human mind, and as some researchers suggest, on the human body as well.

In a recent article by Emma Grey Ellis of WIRED magazine entitled What Coronavirus Isolation Could Do to Your Mind (and Body), Harry Taylor, a student of social isolation in older adults, is quoted to say that the “mortality effect of social isolation is like smoking 15 cigarettes per day.” The article also points out that long periods of isolation tend to exacerbate the effects of pre-existing medical conditions like heart disease and Alzheimer’s.  

What’s more, the effects of social isolation can differ drastically from individual to individual. The introverts among us may cope with it with more ease than our fellow extroverts. Those of us who live alone and have often relied on going to work or school to be social are more likely to feel the effects of this isolation than those of us who live in a family unit and can occupy, at least a portion of our time, with family interactions.

Regardless of the varying degrees of impact, everyone is feeling the effects of social distancing in one way or another. What makes these effects even worse is the barrage of news coverage, the politically hued press briefings, and our unresolved questions like what’s going to happen next? How long is this thing going to last? How am I going to pay my bills, my rent, or buy my groceries if I don’t have an income?  It’s no wonder so many of us are stressed and feeling weak at a time when we should be doing everything to boost our immune system and practice wellness.

So, what should we do? For one thing, there are routines we can incorporate into our days to ease the effects of social distancing. Focusing on doing things we’ve always wanted to do, but didn’t have time for when life was a lot busier, staying in touch with family and friends through social media and video calls, catching up on our reading, or learning a new skill, are some ways we can manage and cope.

Another thing we can do is shift our mindset and consider our isolation not as loneliness, but as a chance for solitude. 

Image by Joanna Nix on Unsplash

Loneliness vs. Solitude

Loneliness is a negative state. It has an involuntary quality to it and lacks free will. We don’t choose to be lonely; we just are because of a variety of life experiences.

Solitude, on the other hand, is entirely different. It is a positive state. A state one chooses and hence a state that has the strength of free will associated with it. Solitude is an opportunity to spend time with your conscious and subconscious self. It offers you a chance to find inner peace and balance. To have a conversation with your soul; the good and the bad you; the weak and the strong you; the frightened and the brave you. To hear your intuition, remember who you were, realize who you are, and visualize who you want to become. It is a chance to be creative, to be innovative, to explore the limitless boundaries of your mind, go on a journey of your imagination, and decipher your dreams.

Solitude is necessary to become a better version of yourself. To grow and evolve. During normal times, when we’re not conforming to social limitations because of a novel virus, most of us are too busy socializing to allocate time for solitude. We go through the hustle and bustle of daily life, mingling and interacting but not necessarily evolving, and often without hearing our inner voice.

So, while there are unquestionable limitations placed on us by social distancing, and we’ll likely suffer negative consequences as a result of our isolation, why not make an effort to reconfigure our reality, shift our mindset and consider this unwanted isolation a gift. An opportunity to reconnect with our inner self and feel empowered by the strength within us. Who knows? We might end up finding qualities within ourselves we never knew we had. We may even end up enjoying our own company more. Stranger things have happened.

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