This Christmas will be tough for many who cannot see their families, but what can we learn about coping with isolation from families who are separated on a regular basis? Becky, a Coach for Military Spouses and whose husband Dan is in the military, shares some of her best tips.
My personal experience of dealing with isolation is epitomised by my experience in early 2019. My husband Dan deployed with the army on a gloomy January evening leaving me in our military house in a beautiful yet remote north east Scotland, about 8 hours drive from my family. At the time we had our 5-year-old and 7-week-old baby. I found myself miles from my family and core friendships and really anxious about how I was going to ‘survive’ the following 6 months. In my role at Recruit for Spouses as their in-house coach I have the honour of speaking to military spouses day in, day out, who often find themselves in their own mini-isolation across the UK and abroad.
What’s a small change you can make today to help this situation which feels manageable?
The following tips are ways you may find helpful to overcome feelings of isolation, too:
- Seek connection: As human beings we are designed to be around others so even when I was having a blue day, I would seek out connection. With Covid-19 keeping us all at home, it isn’t dissimilar to me being at the other end of the country back in that gloomy 2019. Reach out to those you love virtually, they will welcome your contact. You can also try listening to podcasts, these kept me company on days that felt very long and lonely looking after my daughter with no adult interaction. You can even take them on walks with you!
- Network: If you are feeling lonely and don’t feel as if you have people you can turn to, how about creating your own network? One of the things I did was set up a baby group on the military base. This meant I met other people going through similar experiences to me and we became each other’s mini family. I did have to be brave and push myself out of my comfort zone a bit, but I knew if I was feeling the way I was then others must be too and I was right!
Other things you could try include volunteering to help deliver food to others who are shielding, trying a community garden project, or volunteering at a clothing bank.
Particularly at Christmas, the pressure to be in a family can be overwhelming if you don’t have the so-called ‘normal’ family set up, but you are not alone. There are campaigns on Twitter such as Comedian Sarah Millican’s #Joinin campaign over Christmas. This is an amazing initiative where people can communicate with others who are struggling at this time of year, from bereaved family members to single parents or those in challenging families. You can also text SHOUT to 85258, their trained volunteers are available 24/7, 365 days of the year.
- Accept help: If someone offers to help whether it be a friend or a volunteer group, try saying yes. The feeling you get when you help someone is great, so see accepting as your gift to the giver. I had to ask for help when I sprained my ankle, which was difficult as I consider myself to be an independent person, but the lesson I learnt was that it was completely ok to need help and my friends were happy to be able to do something to help that was meaningful like take my daughter to school for me.
- Get outdoors. And I don’t mean you have to do a HIIT workout. Even if it’s a 10-minute stroll around the block, give it a try. On my darkest days of isolation and when I was suffering with lack of sleep due to my baby, I really didn’t feel like getting out. However, as I had to do the school run every day for my 5-year-old, I was forced out and it always made me feel better. We recently moved into our own home and whilst on walks exploring our new area we are amazed by the number of people out and about also walking and the sharing of a ‘good morning’ can really improve your day.
- Stop comparing yourself: Don’t fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others! While social media is amazing at keeping us connected, it can also be damaging to our mental health if we allow it to take over. One of the best bits of advice I have heard about this is to curate your news feed. Join the groups, follow the people who inspire you and mute the people who don’t. Set time limits if you need to (I need to!)
- Count the small wins. This is where my coaching head comes in. If you are feeling isolated but also anxious about stepping out of your isolation, let’s break that down. What’s the outcome you want? What’s a small change you can make today to help this situation which feels manageable? Send that one email, send a message. And pat yourself on the back for small wins.
Remember that everyone has days that they just get through. Being isolated and lonely is not unique to a certain type of person. And if you enjoy certain elements of isolation, that’s ok too! We are not all one thing or another, there are plenty of blurred lines.