We knew difficult times were ahead, but no one was prepared for a disaster that would see most of the world spending weeks in social isolation.
If you are a person with sensory sensitivities, like autism, concussion, PTSD, hearing loss, or have another injury, illness, disease or disability, the effects of social isolation can be even greater. Illnesses and crises are not inherently sensory-friendly times.
“Social Distancing” is a term we have all just learned, but it has quickly become a daily reality for many of us. A reminder: Yes, social distancing and social isolation are hard.
Do you know what’s harder? Getting ill, severely ill in some cases, watching people you love dying. We all need to do our part. No exceptions. No playdates, no playgrounds, no hanging out with friends, no dinner parties, no coffee with friends.
These helpful tips are for everyone; families, neighbors, seniors, friends, relatives. Everyone.
Take care of the basics
Take a moment to reflect on your current state, and how your basic needs are being met. Pay attention to all eight senses. Are you hungry? Thirsty? Tired? Need a bathroom break? When in isolation with your family, continue to ask these questions. They are important. Taking care of your body’s basic needs goes a long way to managing stressful events. Eat. Drink. Rest. Take a shower. And yes, use the bathroom on time, too (and don’t forget to wash your hands)!
Do what is meaningful to you, even during social isolation
The basics as mentioned above are the foundation. After that, it is important to do the things that give meaning to your life every day. What makes you, you? Keep doing that, even just a little bit, when your daily life is disrupted.
Re-establish routines as soon as possible
Especially around sleep. Try to get back to doing things at the same time of day, even if you are not in the same place. Your whole daily schedule, everything you do from the time you get up until the time you go to bed, might be upset. While you may not be able to follow all of your daily routines, even bringing back parts of them while you live your new normal is helpful.
What are your daily habits?
You may be living in a different place. Eating different food. Sleeping in a different bed. Away from work or school. Separated from family. Connecting with something that is known to you can dramatically reduce your stress. Find the familiar. It brings great comfort.
Ask for help when you need it
Let family, friends, and new health providers know exactly what you need, whether that be something like a missing medication or help managing your mobility. Take care of your medical needs and health needs and let people know what they are. Make sure you are stocked up on prescriptions and other medication to avoid having to go out to get them during this period of social isolation.
Balance giving and receiving
Accept the help. And offer what you can, when you can. Something simple as a kind word at the right time goes a long way and makes all the difference in the world. Also, know that if you deplete your reserves you cannot help yourself or others. Do what is right for you.
Keep refilling your cup
Resiliency endures when your reserves are not entirely depleted. Think about what helps you the best. It might indeed be a 10-minute nap. Or reading a book. Perhaps playing a game. Or having a social chat with a friend about something entirely frivolous and fun. During times upheaval it can be easy to feel guilty about taking care of yourself. Be a role model for others; demonstrate the importance of “self-care”.
Tell the story
Share your story. Then tell it again. Record it. Journal, and write about it. Draw about it. Make a collage. Sketch a cartoon strip. Paint it. Photograph it. Just share it. Disaster brings many shared experiences. Processing the events, dealing with the moments that are scary, the stressors that are challenging, as well as the ones that bring tears of gratitude, are helped by storytelling.
Seek out the quiet times during periods of social isolation
During these challenging times, there can be moments of quiet, and at the same time overwhelming. Sigh. Take a breath. And then another. And another. Keep going. Re-connect with your body and your mind during times of social isolation. Use meditation. Or yoga. Thoughts may race. Emotions may over-spill. Let them be. Take as many moments of stillness you can find in the hustle and bustle around you and within you to re-calibrate. You may not have your typical space of solitude or silence. Reclaim what you can, when you can.
Make room for sadness
You have permission to grieve. To be mad. To grit your teeth in frustration. And to shake your head in dismay. To wonder, why?
You also have permission to be happy
Find fun and funny moments. Humor, light-heartedness, and laughter are incredibly healing. It is perfectly normal to feel happy and sad at the same time. To laugh and cry at the same moment. Give someone else something to smile about. Share a laugh.
Social Isolation isn’t all bad all the time, but it can feel like it. The small moments of niceties are what see us through. Recognize them, and relish them. When the years pass and the memories fade, the kernels of good amongst the hardships will be what we want to shine through.
This blog post was adapted from a blog post written by occupational therapist Christel Seeberger in 2018 about the flooding disasters in New Brunswick.