AMID ALL THE intense planning for Storm Emma and making sure that supplies were in and pipes were running, it was easy to miss the added psychological and emotional stresses that people endured as a result of the enforced isolation.
If we think of isolation as a time when we are separated from, or feel separated from the people and things that are usually around us, then those conditions certainly applied over the last week.
I, like many, loved and cherished the stolen time of these days. I have enjoyed the time for thought, for reading, for Netflix, for lighting fires and for reflecting.
I know enough about life and its fragility to be appreciative of all that is good in my life right now and to know that life changes quickly and what we have today may not be with us tomorrow. So I enjoyed every moment, but not everybody had that experience.
Amplifying existing stresses
Isolation can amplify existing stresses and we lose the joy and health that lies within the ‘ordinary’ day.
I thought of those amongst us who are already navigating grief, recent breakups, separations, now finding themselves home alone, without the usual supports of working, socialising, shopping or sport.
Days can feel very long without punctuation and in that time thoughts can settle on sadness and the past. Without interruption this can lead to a darker place.
Daily routine is a great moderator of our emotional selves and works as a necessary distraction from our inner worlds.
The emptiness of endless time
We get up, however reluctantly, and if we have work to attend to, then we are forced to move through some phases of the day.
The obligatory showering, dressing, breakfast and the need to be on time or to be somewhere can be a blessing. At a time such as Storm Emma we can feel the emptiness of endless time without boundaries.
Before you know it the clock has struck eleven and a coffee break connects you, however superficially, with the world - even if it is only to ask for what it is you want: Americano or Cappucino? This is then followed by a smile and a question is a communication, a connection. When we feel connected, we feel a little better.
Duty and obligation whether to keep time, complete a task or prepare for a deadline has the great added benefit that it moves your attention and inner ear from listening to your own thoughts to focusing on the task.
Listening to ourselves is important. Understanding our feelings is a very useful emotional competence, but must be balanced by outward connecting. This is absent when we are isolated.
Tips if obliged to be indoors alone:
- Provide yourself with the distraction of purpose, by that I mean, make work, set targets, complete tasks and jobs that have been left forever.
- Connect with others through phone or email or social media. I know it is not the same, but it is definitely better than no contact.
- Reward yourself, but not with alcohol. You may think it will lift your mood but it will do the opposite.
- Cook, bake, or write.
- Plan a holiday, do the research.
- Check on your neighbors, someone else may need you.
Stephanie Regan is a Clinical Psychotherapist, based in Dublin, and a regular on Newstalk’s The Hard Shoulder.