Tag Archives: community

Mental Health During a Pandemic: 9 Ways to Cope With Loneliness

Whether living alone, with family members, or roommates most of us are facing some degree of loneliness during this time of social isolation and COVID-19. And there’s no getting around the fact that loneliness has a profound impact on our mental health. We aren’t able to have the usual in person interactions that provided a sense of belonging and community that as human beings we need. You may also be noticing now with less in person interaction how much these connections with others kept you afloat, feeling a sense of ease and joy, before the pandemic hit.  

 

During this time of social isolation we now confront the uncomfortable experience of loneliness. Loneliness is a natural human emotion that every human being experiences. It can feel all-consuming, overwhelming, and, at times, debilitating. Like all emotions, loneliness comes and goes. However, serious issues can arise when loneliness becomes chronic as it affects a person’s physical, mental, and emotional health. 

 

According to one study, co-published by Louise Hawkley, chronic loneliness has been linked to depression, poor sleep quality, and even a weakened immune system. 

 

Loneliness can set in when an individual feels they do not have adequate social, emotional, or financial support. Feelings of loneliness also occur whether you are surrounded by people or not. Therefore, loneliness and its implications for your health depends on the quality of connection you have with other people, as well as the quality of connection you have with yourself. 

 

With most of us under strict order to stay home and maintain social distancing when we are around people, it is important to notice how loneliness is impacting your mental health.

 

So, how do you cope with loneliness?

 

First, it is important to acknowledge that it is an unrealistic expectation to completely eliminate loneliness. However there are action steps a person can take – especially during this time of social isolation – to mitigate and move through the feelings of loneliness that arise.

 

9 ACTION ITEMS YOU CAN TAKE DURING SOCIAL ISOLATION TO COPE WITH LONELINESS

There is no “one size fits all” protocol for how to cope with loneliness. Below are some suggestions of practices and action items for you to navigate your own natural rhythm through this process. You are encouraged to explore and see what is helpful for you and what is not. As always, please reach out to a mental health professional if you are in need of additional support. 

 

  1. Practice the RAIN mindfulness technique. RAIN is a four-step process that stands for “Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Natural Awareness or Non-idenfitication.” In the first step, Recognize what you are experiencing and feeling. Next, Allow what you are experiencing to be exactly as it is without attempting to change or fix it. Then Investigate your experience with self-compassion and as little judgment as possible. Finally, Natural Awareness comes from not identifying with the situation or experience. In other words: you are not your loneliness. With Natural Awareness you might begin to see some separation between who you are and what you experience: the emotions, feelings, and sensations that come and go.  You can find more RAIN resources by visiting Tara Brach’s website.

 

  1. Schedule one phone or video call per week with a friend or family member. Treat these calls the same way you would schedule meeting up with a friend for a coffee or walk. If you are able to schedule more than one call per week, go for it! If not, one call per week is certainly sufficient. The intention is simply to have something on your calendar where you know you’ll be making a personal connection with someone. It may give you something to look forward to and alleviate the pressure of making time to connect with other people when you are in the midst of feeling lonely. While on this call, put anything away that might distract you such as your phone and immerse yourself in the connection you are cultivating with the other person. Be as attentive to them as possible when you listen because often we feel more connected when we feel valued by other people. In the same vein, you can ask your friend to hold space to listen to you. Share as little or as much as you feel comfortable with. 

 

  1. Write a letter or email to a trusted, beloved friend or family member. In this letter you might let them know how you’ve been spending your time during social isolation – including what you’ve enjoyed as well as what challenges you’ve faced. If you are writing a hand-written letter, you can also get creative with including drawings, different colored pen or pencils, and even sending a handmade creation to your friend.

 

  1. Take a walk in your neighborhood and say hello to anyone you pass by. Leave your phone at home so you can focus as much of your attention as possible on your movement (walking) and engagement with others as you say/nod hello. Notice these small, yet powerful interactions with others that can occur even while honoring social distancing. Consider making relaxed yet meaningful eye contact with those you pass by. This can be a useful action item if you aren’t feeling up for a full on conversation with someone but are seeking some human to human connection. Notice how people respond when you wave, say hi, or smile at them. Not everyone will smile back! But you might be surprised at the responses you draw out of people. 

 

  1. Do a body scan. When you feel lonely, where do you experience the loneliness in your body? It might be a tightening in your chest or a tingling pins and needles sensation in the back of your neck. Set a timer for 5-15 minutes and sit (or lie down) with the physical sensation of loneliness in your body. See if you can close your eyes as you do the body scan. Does the loneliness sensation have a color? What about a shape? Maybe place a hand over the part of your body where you physically notice the loneliness. Sometimes when you experience loneliness you are also missing physical touch so you can offer yourself some compassionate touch just by placing your hand over your heart or belly. Give the sensation all of your attention for the selected duration of time. If it helps, play some music that helps you ground and relax.

 

  1. Share how you are feeling with someone you trust. Whether it be a trusted friend, family member, or mental health professional, sometimes describing your feelings to someone can really help lighten the load. Let the person know that you just need them to listen and be a trusting refuge for you at this time. If you don’t already have a therapist or other mental health professional, we advise seeking one out.

 

  1. Attend a virtual group workout. There is an abundance of Zoom workouts during social isolation and it is a great way to exercise with others and feel the sense of community we as humans need. Attending a virtual workout also benefits those who are more introverted but still would like to share some time with other people. Also, moving the body in a mindful, intentional way can really help shift your mindset and move emotions that are pent up or stuck.

 

  1. Make a list of people in your life who support you. This is a simple practice that can remind you that you are not alone, despite the loneliness you are feeling. Include those that support you in major ways, such as friends and family, but also those who’s support is still meaningful but perhaps less obvious, like a friendly neighbor or store clerk. Once you’ve made your list, select one or two people to write a thank you note to. You may choose to send the letter or hold onto it. The purpose of this action step is to experience gratitude which can almost immediately give us a sense of connection to the world around us.

 

  1. Spend time doing something you love to do, alone. Whether it be writing, painting, playing music, exercising, baking choose an activity or something you like to do or that you’re interested in learning more about and spend some time with yourself alone. If this is something you are brand new to, start by engaging in the activity for just 10-15 minutes and work your way up to 45 minutes to an hour. Learning to enjoy our own company is a great skill to cope with loneliness. This is especially helpful if you live alone and find you have ample time to yourself. You don’t have to be productive and you don’t have to excel at the activity. What’s important is that you enjoy it. An add-on to this action item is to call in a friend or acquaintance to virtually join you in this activity. Maybe you share a video call while you both paint or, alternatively, paint on your own and then connect after to share your works of art with each other.

 

I sincerely hope that you’ve found something from this list that sparks a bit of inspiration for you. Whether it’s an exact action item, or you’ve come up with one on your own. This list is not exhaustive and working with our emotions is not a one size fits all process. Most importantly, be patient and compassionate with yourself as you better understand and learn to cope with loneliness. Remember that loneliness, to varying degrees, is something that’s affecting all of us in these times. You are not alone in your loneliness. We are in this together.

 

While I am not a therapist or medical professional, I am an active, compassionate listener. If you need someone to talk to, please contact me directly at maggie.converse@gmail.com

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An Education: Thoughts on Closing CT Bowspring.

As I write this I am in the midst of a transition. Although it could be argued: aren’t we always in transition at any moment of our lives?

 

I moved to CT in November 2013 and was eager to find my new yoga home and community in Fairfield County – a place that felt so familiar to my childhood and adolescent self but as an adult felt like new territory.

 

Through mutual friends I was introduced to the owner of a new studio in Westport. We clicked and I was hired on the spot.

 

And so began my teaching career in CT. I soon took on up to 6 weekly classes at the studio and found my way into my first yoga home here. As some of my students there liked to say, I found my church.

 

Eight months later, August 2014, I learned that the studio had less than a month left before it would shut its doors. My heart sank. I lost a job and would miss the students, the ritual and routine that helped me make the transition to my life in CT.

 

I felt stranded until I found myself at a beautiful barn-like studio in Wilton. October 2014 I took my first Bowspring class and haven’t looked back since. It resonated so deeply with all the shit I was working through with body image and healing the residue from my eating disorder. I dove deep into the practice, immersed myself in a new community, and adopted this practice in my teaching. I even had the fortunate opportunity to teach at this special space.

 

It was a short ride before I learned in May 2015 that they too would be shutting their doors. Bummed didn’t even begin to describe the way I felt about this loss. It felt sudden and I was afraid because not only were we losing the space but my two teachers announced they would be moving.

 

In September 2015 CT Bowspring made a brave attempt to resuscitate the community and provide a space to practice. We prayed we would retain students and somehow – it sometimes felt as if we’d need a bit of magic – attract new ones. We, perhaps naively, had the vision that we could show the world how innovative and effective Bowspring was. At least I did.

 

And now here we are just 2 days short of officially shutting our doors.

 

I feel sad, frustrated, angry, hopeless, and defeated. Admittedly I also feel relief because the path to this difficult decision was so murky and exhausting. I feel responsible for not being able to hold it together and for not being able to provide a house of belonging for our students.

 

Our student base is modest in number but deep in connection with each other and I wish I had a magic want to house that connection for them. (Someday though…)

 

My ego is also a bit bruised by the fact that in the three years I have lived here I have been involved with three studios that have shut their doors. And with each one I feel more and more vested – especially this last one. AND I trust that there is no better education than experience. I have learned so much working with the partners and teachers of CT Bowspring. Sometimes we all got along and sometimes we were at each other’s throats – often brought on by the frustrations of 8 people with 8 different visions, trying to run a business together. Live and Learn.

 

Ultimately we all shared the same passion to explore and SHARE how the body moves through space with each other and our dear students; even if it meant we looked like weirdos to the outside world. It is not uncommon to twerk in slow motion in a Bowspring class.

 

In keeping with the spirit of my love for all things cheesy, I want to share this with the teachers and students of CT Bowspring:

 

You held space for me to grow. You held space for me to stand up for myself. You held space for me to be angry and frustrated. You held space for me to experiment (and dance) in class. You held space for me to be more open to the way I was so hard on myself for years. You held space for me to soften when I saw YOUR hearts softening. You held space for me to see how strong I am when I saw YOUR strength. You held space for me to slow down and be gentle. You held space for me to feel like I belong.

 

I feel like we (where we = anyone who has taken a deep dive into Bowspring) are all in on this crazy secret. Bowspring. And it’s not just the alignment that we’ve been privy to, but the encouragement to be our own badass authentic selves – the dark AND the light – and to embrace who we are and what we’ve got rather than trying to fit a mold of what we should be.

 

You teachers and students of Bowspring WORLDWIDE remind me to do that every day. And even though we may not have a dedicated space (for the moment) here in CT we still hold each other accountable to keep up the good work.

 

Let’s keep up the good work, ok? 

With deepest love and admiration. MC

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Trusting in the Process of Change

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Limber Pine in Bryce Canyon National Park

First thing this morning I read a blog entry posted by my friend and client. It was on change. It didn’t take but a moment for me to feel like he was talking directly to me as I started to read:

“Change, for me, comes during times of struggle.  I’ve never made a significant change when I’m warm and comfy…..ever.”

I read these two sentences over and over again and I got chills. This really must be the universe reminding me that as I am going through a challenging time, I must trust that staying present in this discomfort will result in something greater.

There is a quote (who can tell me who it’s by?) that goes:

If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.

Well, here I am at 31 slowly building my dream life and career, while being confronted by the financial challenges (and sometimes grim realities) of a freelancer/independent contractor. By the instability of a schedule that is in constant flux with ebbs and flows, gains and losses. I am constantly reminded of impermanence and that nothing is guaranteed. And then I notice how do I deal with the reality of impermanence? How do I approach it with love, grace, and compassion?

I approach these challenges with love, grace, and compassion by keeping the faith and by trusting.

I have Faith that when it feels like everything is crumbling and dissolving, there will be an equal amount of rebuilding and resolving. And that when I do eventually get to the other side I will have a laugh at how discouraged I once felt.

I Trust that it’s ok to ask for help. I trust that when I ask for help people won’t run away and that it’s ok to cry when I feel like my small little world is falling to smithereens. I Trust in the support of a loving community of heart-driven people. I Trust in myself that “I can do this” and that “I have my own back” as does the universe and said community.

When I visited Bryce Canyon National Park last weekend there was a beautiful tree as we neared the end of our hike: the Limber Pine. You can tell by it’s exposed sprawling roots, unprotected by earth, that this tree has been through hell and back again. And then I read about the tree, about how they are resilient and can grow on the edge of cliffs, exposed to erosion and the elements, but deeply connected by their strong tangle of roots.

I resolved then and there that as I go through the challenges I am currently faced with, I want to be resilient like the Limber Pine that surely goes through struggles but allows it’s branches to bend and sway so that it can then stand upright and elegant time and time again.

My friend was right, I can’t think of a time that I’ve taken great strides when I’ve been all warm and comfy. And don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing I love more than being warm and comfy. Except maybe welcoming the opportunity for change.

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Words to go by in the new year…

A year from now you will wish you had started today. - Karen Lamb

A year from now you will wish you had started today. – Karen Lamb

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