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Life in isolation

by Yoana Nikolova

Maybe for the first time in the history of humankind, everyone around the world is experiencing a relatively similar everyday life and has similar reasons for concern at the exact same time. This is a great opportunity for reassessing many ideas and values, being immersed in certain fears and reaffirming or reestablishing helpful and harmful habits. Since the first moment the world seemingly stopped, a few weeks have passed, and we could say that people are no longer in the initial state of shock and have adopted a new routine and a reality which is a lot different than before. Depending on the cards we were dealt, some people have kept their jobs, others have lost it, some are isolated on their own, others – for better or worse – are isolated with their family, friends, people they love or people they may not. What isolation quickly achieved was to take us back to a state of direct connection and relations. What surrounds us became most important – our home, food and how we get it, people who surround us became very few – the most important ones, there are no longer any distractions from our surroundings except for technology which still upholds the borderless existence we had. Suddenly, we faced our life, the way it really is, with a pretty substantial amount of added fear.

Let’s talk about fear

Since the beginning of time, fear has been one of the biggest reasons behind making decisions and performing actions, it is capable of personifying itself in all kinds of situations, in different forms, and its purpose is to distance us from the threat. It is a guide, in a way, with very large eyes and ears, always watching and listening, so it can warn and protect us. Unfortunately, people often see the things they deeply desire as threatening and when they trust their fear too much, they rarely find happiness in life. If this was a fact of life a month ago, it certainly is now too, but with the added fear of death which the media is instilling in people. Fear can definitely be a major reason for a worse quality of life.

It can be said that in addition to the viral pandemic, a fear pandemic also swept the world, causing even more anxiety to a lot of anxious people. Even though this article will not dive deep into the media subject because it is vast and no less controversial, one thing is clear – no one is left satisfied after half an hour of pointless Facebook scrolling. The reason is that fear is viral, a lot more viral than any virus, and although we have isolated our bodies at home, few could successfully isolate their consciousness.

We all know what psychosomatics is and the harm a few unclear words can cause. Let’s imagine then how the countless dark, exaggerated news affect our soul and body. It has been proven scientifically – when the brain registers something as a threat (a scary virus, for example), it releases chemicals to trigger our fight or flight response. If there were a threat we could either fight or run away from, it would be helpful. However, the threat in question both lingers and nobody has seen it, we just hear about it nonstop – how we are potential victims, how if we were to get sick it would lead to the deaths of those closest to us. This is a nightmare, our biggest nightmares combined in an invisible, vicious, fantastical foe, lurking. If we thought about that all the time, we would go crazy, start getting heart palpitations, sweat excessively, get numb limbs, bad moods, many compulsive actions which are trying to save us from the constant worrying that the world is ending. This is called an anxiety disorder and it can lead to many different mental issues if it is not handled properly.

If you have these symptoms, it is important to take care of yourself and your fear, because it is no longer a guide, it is a strangler. The way to help ourselves in a moment like that is to gain control over what we think.

Most often we think about things we see, our consciousness is a deeply complicated mirror, it distorts images, plays with them, turns them towards itself. If you spent 3 hours a day looking at beautiful landscapes, drawing beautiful landscapes, listening to songbirds, reading poetry and doing other geisha activities, your thoughts would most likely be filled with a certain softness and serenity. If those same hours are spent filling your mind with thoughts of bills, Facebook and news, your mind will expand those images and play with them.

The first step is to decide what you want your thoughts to be and to deliver those images and interests to your mind. This does not mean turning a blind eye to the world, but we cannot make ourselves healthier by looking at images of unhealthy people, our immune system is the best protection from disease and it is strong when we are relaxed and happy.

If we gain control over the images entering our consciousness, often the anxiety disappears, but there are other aspects which can get in the way, too.

One of them is the physical condition and the things we physically consume. The least we can do in periods of greater stress is to reduce caffeine and increase our water intake so we can restore the normal balance and give our adrenal glands a break. Caffeine causes adrenaline release which, if you are scared at all times, the body produces anyway so it tires your body out. If we were to reduce the stress and the caffeine, and find the images which make us happy, our body would begin returning to life.

Sweets, cigarettes, alcohol could be just as harmful in these moments but the truth is we all have our reasons and personal context and there is no universal way of handling this. Regaining control is extremely beneficial but it also must be tailored to every individual person. The way to do it is through examining yourself and replacing a habit with a different one, because, at the end of the day, we are a collection of habits specific to our personality.

If a person is used to using social media and feels a need for communication and likes, maybe it is a bad idea to quit completely, but they could use it for the things which will actually bring joy. In order to find out what those things are, we must create a habit of being aware of how we feel, what helps us and what harms us. One way to do that is through a diary, another way is to check what mood we are in every hour so we can track when we are better or worse and what the reason behind that is. This can be done over the course of a few days so we could gain a better perspective on our general worldview and the influence of outside objects. This can be done by setting an alarm at every hour, just to be sure that we will be reminded. After establishing what causes the most amount of stress, we can replace it with a habit which would bring a positive experience or a positive effect on the body. This could be meditation, reading, a workout, a Skype call with someone you love or just something delicious and healthy. This small choice to replace something that brings anxiety with something that brings joy works like a lever. If you manage to regain control, it will bring an enormous amount of inspiration and energy.

This article is part of the project Healthy, Brave, and Proud: A mental health support program for LGBTI youth, which aims at providing support and raising awareness regarding the mental health of LGBTI youth. The project is financed by the TELUS International Bulgaria Community Board.

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