As a child, the story of David Vetter, The Boy In The Bubble, captivated me. Vetter had a disease so severe that even breathing in the fresh air could kill him. Doctors constructed a clear bubble for him in which he lived until his death at age 12.
The story of Vetter is heartbreaking yet inspiring. It is a story of conquering the loneliness and isolation that never entirely leaves because the bubble prevents genuine interaction. This story resonates with me, especially now during the coronavirus isolation.
Working remotely, in some ways, is undoubtedly similar to living in a bubble. Conference calls and virtual happy hours provide a false sense of interaction. Scientists, psychologists, and doctors have long known that social isolation causes loneliness, which in turn leads to a range of mental and physical health effects.
Before Covid-19, studies determined that loneliness increased the risk of death by 26% and cited large numbers of people who sometimes or always feel lonely, even while interacting with others. It is predicted that future studies will find an even more significant increase in the palpable feeling of loneliness.
What can we do to overcome the feelings of loneliness in the absence of our workplace?
Take a deep breath. Actually, take several. As this WebMD article states, “Your breath is a powerful tool to ease stress and make you feel less anxious.” There are many different types of breathing exercises, but perhaps the easiest one to do is called 365. 365 is a common breathing technique used when feeling anxious or stressed. The name is a reminder to breathe:
- At least three times a day;
- For a total of six times per minute (inhale and exhale five seconds each time);
- For a total of five minutes.
Most breathing techniques recommend deep breathing, expanding the diaphragm, as opposed to short, shallow breaths. Breathing techniques help reduce stress. This is an important point as feelings of loneliness increase stress, which in turn triggers conditions such as depression. Worse, depression tends to increase isolation and loneliness, causing an ugly feedback loop.
How to improve the results from working remotely?
Remind yourself that today is just one day in your life. One of the wonders of the human mind is its ability to trick its host in so many fashions. One example is called the availability bias.
Discovered and named by the psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, the availability bias points out that people make judgments about the likelihood of an event based on how easily an example comes to mind.
As Daniel Kahneman states, “What you see is all there is.” This is obviously not the truth, and although it’s easy to see others succumbing to the availability bias, it’s difficult to see when we do it ourselves.
If all you see is a future based on what you do know rather than all you do not, you will believe that the future will look the same as your present. If in your present state of mind, you are isolated and lonely, and you are succumbing to the availability bias, you will likely see a future filled with despair. As the comedian, Bob Newhart, said, “STOP IT!” Rather than succumbing to the availability bias, think about ways to reduce the isolation and loneliness.
Acts to help reduce isolation include:
- Going outside.
- Physical activity that increases your heart rate, even slightly.
- Focus on three things you are grateful for each day.
- Connect virtually with varied groups of people, if real-life connections are not available due to the pandemic. Many organizations are meeting online. Now is the time to try some different groups.
- Change your routine. Something as simple as modifying meal times, physical or mental activity rather than watching screens can help change your outlook.
Long after this pandemic is over, the feeling of isolation and loneliness all of us feel might remain. If this occurs, use the breathing techniques and suggestions in this article to help alleviate the feeling of isolation.
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