Coping With Coronavirus Anxiety, Isolation and Loneliness

By | March 27, 2020

In an effort to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, many schools, offices and social venues have shut down, and many governments have issued more or less strict “social distancing” recommendations.1 As a result, people around the world are faced with the prospect of having very limited human interactions for a period of time.

While introverts may be silently celebrating, many others may struggle with feelings of isolation and loneliness. On top of that, many are feeling worried and anxious about getting infected,2 or worry about the health of immune-compromised or elderly family members3 who are at greatest risk for serious infection and complications.

In the video above, Julie Schiffman demonstrates how to use the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) to relieve anxiety and other challenging emotions brought on by news and uncertainty about this pandemic and/or self-quarantining.

The FAST Technique

Another easy alternative is the Neuro-Emotional Technique’s First Aid Stress Tool, or NET FAST, demonstrated in the video above. Firstaidstresstool.com also provides an excellent printable summary with visuals of the technique,4 which even a young child can do. Here is a summary of the FAST procedure:

  1. While thinking about an issue that is bothering you, place your right wrist, palm up, into your left hand. Place three fingers of your left hand onto the area of your right wrist where you can feel your pulse.
  2. Place your open right hand on your forehead. Gently breathe in and out several times while concentrating on feeling the issue that bothers you.
  3. Switch hands and repeat steps 1 and 2.

Loneliness Epidemic Looms Large

Even without social distancing and self-quarantining requirements, a staggering number of people report feeling lonely. According to a 2018 Cigna insurance health survey5,6,7 of Americans aged 18 and over, 46% report sometimes or always feeling lonely, 47% say they do not have meaningful in-person social interactions or extended conversations on a daily basis and 43% report feeling isolated.

Self-quarantining will likely worsen these sentiments and drive percentages up even higher. Remarkably, in Cigna’s survey, young adults between the ages of 18 and 22 were the loneliest. Even the U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) acknowledges8 there’s an “epidemic” of loneliness in the U.S. and that it’s taking a mounting toll on public health.

According to HRSA,9 a panel presentation by the National Institute for Health Care Management — a nonprofit research firm for the health insurance industry — revealed social isolation among seniors is costing the federal government $ 6.7 billion each year in added health care spending, as “poor social relationships” are associated with a 29% higher risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke.

The aggressive social isolation approaches currently being advocated for COVID-19 will only worsen this scenario for seniors. Research by the AARP Foundation — an organization dedicated to empowering American seniors — presents a similar picture. In its 2018 survey,10 “Loneliness and Social Connections,” the AARP reports that 35% of adults over 45 struggle with loneliness.

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Financial and Social Recession

Seniors making less than $ 25,000 a year have an even greater loneliness ratio — 1 in 2 — according to the AARP.11 Considering stock markets are crashing all around us and store shelves are emptying of necessities, the financial and emotional disparities between the rich and the poor may widen even further.

Working adults who are in financial dire straits may also end up promoting the spread of infectious disease. As noted by Josephine Tovey in an article for The Guardian:12

“In the U.S., where there is no guaranteed sick leave, experts have warned many workers will defy pleas to stay home during the current outbreak, even if ill, out of pure economic necessity.”

Amid a growing financial recession, Vox13 rightfully points out that the implementation of social distancing will also cause “what we might call a ‘social recession’: a collapse in social contact that is particularly hard on the populations most vulnerable to isolation and loneliness …”

The true cost of “social recession” could be enormous, as lack of social contact and loneliness are drivers of ill health, both mentally and physically, and early death, both from disease and suicide. In “Work and the Loneliness Epidemic: Reducing Isolation at Work Is Good for Business,” Vivek Murthy writes:14,15

“Over thousands of years, the value of social connection has become baked into our nervous system such that the absence of such a protective force creates a stress state in the body.

Loneliness causes stress, and long-term or chronic stress leads to more frequent elevations of a key stress hormone, cortisol. It is also linked to higher levels of inflammation in the body.

This in turn damages blood vessels and other tissues, increasing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, joint disease, depression, obesity, and premature death.”

Easing Feelings of Isolation

If you’re currently self-isolating, what can you do to ease the pain? In her article, Tovey addresses the issue of loneliness brought on by the current outbreak, highlighting some emerging coping trends:16

“Nicole Gadon, an American woman forced into lengthy home quarantine by tuberculosis in 2014, told the New York Times the loneliness was palpable …

Looking back, she wished she had said yes when her brother offered to simply stand outside on her lawn and keep her company. Her two pieces of advice? ‘Ask for help’ and ‘get an indoor pet.’

Already in China during this outbreak, we have heard stories about the most dire consequences of social isolation17 — but so too we have seen a wellspring of creativity as people stay connected however they can.

Live-streamed DJ sets to turn apartments into satellite nightclubs, online book clubs and recipe forums where millennials can learn to cook together are some of the ways people are not just fighting boredom but are staying tethered to the outside world and each other.”

What’s It Like Living in Isolation?

In a BBC News article,18 Nuala McCann writes about her two-week long self-isolation two decades ago, noting that while not joyful, a couple of weeks did pass rather quickly.

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Ian Pannell, a senior foreign correspondent for ABC News also writes about what it’s like living in isolation.19 After spending two days on assignment in Daegu, South Korea, where coronavirus infection was rampant, he had to self-quarantine for 14 days. Pannell writes:20

Think of all the things you could do — reading, writing, studying, watching, listening. All the things you never normally have time to do, right? Wrong.

I am now convinced that there is some unwritten mathematical equation or scientific law that proves an inverse relationship between time and achievement. The more of one we have, the less of the other we accomplish, and vice versa.

The other fallacy is that peace and quiet will be a welcome relief from the incessant noise of 24/7 modern life. Again, I can report this is also wrong.

It is an unusual and sometimes lonely sensation being entirely on your own … It is also sometimes claustrophobic not being able to just step outside the front door … And the silence can be uncomfortable … It is surprising what you do hear when there’s nothing to listen to.”

Looking Out for Others — Every Day

Time will tell whether people will learn a truly valuable lesson from the current bout of self-isolation. In the future, will you perhaps be more mindful to look out for people who are isolated?

Will you call an aging parent or elderly grandparent more often? Will you check on a neighbor or co-worker who strikes you as lonely and a bit forlorn? Empathy often grows from personal experience and, globally, we’re now getting a taste of what it’s like for some people every day.

While making full use of technology during this time is being stressed by most experts, for those who were already isolated to begin with, the recommendation to Facetime with family and friends won’t help much since they lack that social network.

Many of the most vulnerable, such as the elderly and disabled, also lack the technical know-how. For these individuals in particular, the answer really lies in a compassionate reaching out by others, perhaps complete strangers — perhaps by you.

“This is an area where government can help by funding and supercharging community organizations,” sociologist Eric Klinenberg tells Vox.21

“A lot of my work is premised on the idea that extreme situations like the one we’re in now allow us to see conditions that are always present but difficult to perceive. We’re going to learn a lot about who we are and what we value in the next few months.”

Robust Immune Function Is Your First Line of Defense

Again, if you struggle with worry or anxiety, please check out Schiffman’s video and the FAST technique at the top of this article. If you’re worried about getting sick, remember that your immune system is your first line of defense. This is true for all infections.

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While proper handwashing, masks, hand sanitizers and social distancing will all help to limit the spread of the virus (and are ways to protect others as well as yourself), keeping your immune system strong needs to be at the top of your list of personal prevention methods. To boost and support healthy immune function, consider:

Cutting out sugar and avoiding processed foods — Replace these with real (unprocessed or minimally processed) foods.

Getting enough sleep each night — It’s well-known that lack of sleep can increase your chances of getting sick, and research22 has shown approximately 10% of your genome is under circadian control, including genes that influence your immune function. Your immune cells are also under circadian control.

Taking a high-quality probiotic — The health benefits derived from probiotics are rooted in the balancing of your intestinal bacteria. One of the easiest and quickest ways to do that is by eating fermented vegetables. Other beneficial fermented foods include kefir, natto, kimchi, pickles, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh and yogurt made from raw grass fed milk (avoid commercial yogurt as most are loaded with added sugar).

Increasing your fiber intake — Not only does fiber help balance your gut microbiome, it also helps improve your immune system, as resistant starches act as prebiotics that feed healthy bacteria in your gut.

Taking one or more immune-boosting supplements — While a healthy whole food diet is foundational for health, you may in some cases need a supplement or two. Nutrients that are important for healthy immune function include vitamins A, C, D3, K1, K2, zinc, selenium and B vitamins. Quercetin is another supplement that appears particularly promising for the prevention of viral illnesses, including COVID-19.

Drinking chaga tea — The high antioxidant levels in chaga tea may help boost your immune function. Chaga mushrooms are also chockful of beta-d-glucans that increase macrophage and killer cell efficiency.


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