As the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact families and communities throughout the nation, almost everyone is dealing with elevated stress levels and a sense of being isolated from loved ones. For those in recovery, these challenges can be especially problematic.
The good news is that neither isolation nor stress are insurmountable obstacles. Even in these extremely difficult days, you can avoid isolation, manage your stress in a healthy manner, and remain on the path to successful long-term recovery.
One of the most effective ways to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus is to maintain a physical distance of six feet or more from most people. When implemented, this strategy has proved to be extremely beneficial.
Unfortunately, this concept is commonly referred to by the less-than-ideal name of “social distancing.”
There is no doubt that physical proximity can be an important component of our social well-being. But there is a significant difference between being physically separated and being socially isolated.
Thankfully, we have a wealth of tools at our disposal for staying in touch with others when we can’t be in the same room. Phone calls, emails, text messages, video chat, and online meetings are among the many ways we can remain in contact with important people in our lives without putting their or our health at risk.
If you can’t attend a 12-Step meeting or other support group session in person, you can find an online option. If you can’t attend in-person appointments with your counselor or therapist, you may be able to take part in a phone or online session.
And, of course, you can continue to stay in touch with the members of your personal support network via all these options.
Isolation can quickly undermine your ability to remain in recovery. But technology has given us myriad ways to overcome isolation, even when we are physically alone. The people who care about you are never more than a phone call or mouse click away.
When you’re in recovery, you learn two important lessons about control:
- You can’t control what happens around you or even to you.
- You can control how you respond to these events and experiences.
The pandemic has put these lessons in stark relief. Government restrictions and health concerns have impacted where we can go and what we can do. They’ve altered how we work, or even if we still have jobs. And, as discussed in the previous section, they’ve significantly affected how we interact with important people in our lives.
Change can always be stressful. When that change involves uncertainty, the stress can become exponentially stronger. But regardless of what’s going on in the world around you, you remain in control of how you respond.
One of the healthiest responses you can make is to take appropriate action to manage your stress. For example, adapting your communication strategy is an ideal example of how you can exert control in a way that eases your stress levels.
In a publication titled “Tips For Social Distancing, Quarantine, And Isolation During An Infectious Disease Outbreak,” the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offered additional tips for responding to stress in a healthy manner:
- Explore relaxation techniques for your body and mind. Find the ones that work for you. Examples include taking deep breaths, meditating, praying, stretching, or engaging in other activities you find pleasurable.
- When possible, give yourself time between difficult projects or stressful activities. Taking a moment to engage in one of your relaxation techniques or otherwise reward yourself after a challenging task can be extremely beneficial.
- Talk to someone about your feelings. A close friend, a trusted family member, a participant in a support group you attend, or a professional can all be excellent choices. As with relaxation techniques, choose the person who’s best for you.
- Keep a journal. Writing down your thoughts, fears, hopes, and expectations can be a great way to process your feelings and gain a new perspective on what’s been on your mind. When you’re journaling, remember to take a moment to note the people, events, or experiences for which you’re grateful.
The common thread among all advice for avoiding isolation and managing stress is the acknowledgement that none of us are alone and that help is available. There is no shame in struggling, and you should never feel guilty about asking for help.
When you’re in recovery, getting help can take many forms, from engaging in a quick text message exchange to returning to a treatment facility. As with every aspect of managing your recovery, what’s most important is getting the type and level of help that’s right for you.
During this time of great uncertainty, never lose sight of these irrefutable truths: you are not alone. Help is available. You are stronger than you know. And, most importantly, you are worth the effort.