The world has changed in a couple of weeks.
Less than a month ago, I was happy shaking hands with acquaintances. I was feeling comfortable travelling on a busy bus interacting with strangers and enjoying a conversation with the sales assistant inside the supermarket.
Three weeks ago, I did not know that it would be the last time for a while that was seeing my clients face to face in a room that was familiar and safe.
Two weeks ago, I wasn’t wondering whether it was okay to hug my mother or son.
Things have changed quickly, and they continue to change every day. And perhaps the most challenging change for me is social distancing and self-isolation.
Both of these things are of the utmost importance right now. They are imperative not only to your health but also the health of those who are elderly or have any sort of underlying health conditions that could make a recovery difficult, if not impossible.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a relational disease. Your wellbeing is, to some degree dependant on others and theirs on yours.
The problem with social isolation is that it is counterintuitive to the human nervous system.
Born For Connection – Not Self-Isolation
Human beings are born for connection.
As babies, we are connected to our mothers; it’s only when the umbilical cord is cut that the child is separate. But that need for individual connection is an intense intuitive one.
Social connection is also crucial.
Social isolation is contrary to our human needs. Dr Stephen Porges author of The Polyvagal Theory says:
Unlike reptiles, the mammalian nervous system did not evolve solely to survive in dangerous and life-threatening contexts. Still, it evolved to promote social interactions and social bonds in safe environments.
Our need is to connect. For you that might have involved going to work and meeting with colleagues, going to the gym or a yoga class or meeting friends for a drink at the pub. Coronavirus (COVID-19) means all that’s out the window.
Social Connection – Regulating The Nervous System
A human connection is essential because as neuroscientists now know we coregulate our nervous systems. You might have experienced this as picking up on other persons’ negative energy, and so your mood shifts, and you begin to feel negative. Or when you have been distressed that you have been calmed in the calming presence of another.
The Polyvagal Theory describes the evolutionary hierarchy of our autonomic nervous responses with the Social Engagement System (SES) representing the most highly evolved and most recently developed strategy of the brain for self-regulation.
When you feel safe, the SES puts the brakes on any self-protecting strategies. When you’re not scared, the body can focus on health, growth and restoration, allowing us to rest, relax, sleep, and for the body to function optimally. This, in turn, allows the space for love, trust and safety. Conversely, if you’re fearful, the SES will trigger the fight or flight response, and you will contract.
Just Smile, You Don’t Have To Say A Word
All of this is unconscious. The brain picks up on external subtle cues including facial expressions, tone of voice, distance and touch. We, humans, are continually adjusting our physiological state to meet the world and our perceptions about it. Face-to-face human interaction provides the opportunity to give and receive signals of comfort and security.
Stephen Porges defines connectedness as the ability to regulate our mental and physiological states mutually.
So if you are feeling anxious about self-isolation, there is a good reason why.
It is a counterintuitive instinct, but at this moment in history have to do something different. We need to separate and socially isolate.
This isn’t ignoring your instinct. It’s noticing and recognising what feels odd. Honouring that your nervous system is up in the air and, at this moment, incorporating something different into your self-care practice.
So the challenge is at this time is how to stay connected when self-isolating so that you can manage the risk of COVID19 and take care of your mental health.
Counter The Effects Of Self Isolation – Coronavirus
We can’t hug and touch one another, but we mustn’t kill off the impulse to want to connect. This is the time to get creative about how to stay connected when self-isolating while at the same time, we take care of our physical health and wellbeing.
The value of seeing someone’s face and hearing their voice is essential.
- Online video
Sounds obvious, and you might already be doing these things. But to make up for those missing hugs and other forms of touch, we need to modify.
5 Ways To Deepen Connection When Self-Isolating
Try these 5 things when working out how to stay connected when self-isolating:
- When you reach out, savour the connection. It’s easy to be on auto-pilot, one eye on Netflix, doing the cooking or finishing a final draft of a report you’re writing for your boss. Moments of connection are taken for granted; mainly when you’re talking to people, you are familiar. Slow down and listen. Pay attention to your voice as attenuation is important.
- Notice what is happening and what you feel in your body. Ask yourself, “What am I feeling in my body at this time?” Think about sharing how you feel. Is there fear, anxiety, anger, resentment, sadness, joy, or happiness. Monitor and acknowledge the feelings of the one you are talking to that lets them know ‘I’m present. I’m there with you.’ When you reach in and recognise your feelings, this allows you to reach out to others and feel the connectedness. This sharing isn’t about ‘show and tell’ or dumping your feelings on others and being dumped on. Done mindfully, this is about co-regulation.
- Make time for calls as opposed to text, email, or instant messaging on social media. This is because although we can use emoji’s and think about the words we are using, what’s missing is the human connection of voice, attenuation, facial expression, or merely seeing another human face.
- Be intentional with your conversation. Are there things you want to share? The more generous you can be, the deeper the sense of connection.
- Reframe what isolation is. Isolation can be a defence against connection. It’s essential to reach out as the more separate we become, the more defensive become, and the more likely negative thought will take hold. Think of self-isolation at this moment in time as an act of self-care and an act of generosity and opening to others.
Over To You
How are you experiencing this time of self-isolation? If you want a safe space to talk and figure out how to stay connected when self-isolating with COVID19, get in touch and book your first counselling appointment. I offer video sessions online via a secure platform. Coronavirus (COVID-19) doesn’t need to end your therapy sessions.
Or call me today on 07535 864836.
Leave a comment below; I’d love to hear from you.
P.S. PASS IT ON
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© Sandra Harewood 2020
Soul Centred couples counsellor Sandra Harewood specialises in working with couples and women with childhood wounding that impacts their adult relationships. Sandra provides a soulful space for her clients to explore and discover creative solutions to their difficulties and create a great relationship.CONNECTION is at the heart of all human experience. That need for connection is what keeps us in relationships, even those that are hurting us.