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Written by Jane Kent

Ways to Cope with Isolation While in Recovery

Addiction is sometimes referred to as ‘a disease of isolation’ and during current times, when COVID-19 is keeping people confined to their homes, loneliness can be a trigger that should be battled proactively. Those in recovery who benefited from attending group meetings and community support activities are now relying on video conferencing to stay connected with friends and family and, on occasions, to receive assistance from their medical team. Why is receiving online or tele-support so important in the weeks leading up to the global exit from home confinement?

Isolation can Wrest from Motivation

Looking forward to something to do with loved ones can be a powerful way to stay motivated so you can maintain healthy behaviors such as exercise, walks in nature, and mindfulness activities – all of which are beneficial for those in outpatient recovery. A 2017 study by the American Osteopathic Association showed that those who take part in group exercise sessions show more significant improvements in their mental, physical, and emotional health, than those who exercise alone. These benefits are highly motivating and can be made up for by joining live streamed video workouts alongside friends and family.

Self-Esteem and Socialization

As stated in a study by lead researcher Louise Kawkley, “Self-esteem is facilitated by a sense of belonging and self-worth that are, in turn, the result of group acceptance and valuation of the individual.” Being alone for various weeks on end can deprive people of the mood boost that being appreciated by others can bring. This sense of belonging can be kept up by video chats, by forming part of  positive online forums and clubs, and of course, by gaming. Gaming can ease COVID-19 stress since it essentially allows people to rebuild social communities. A plethora of games can be played online — everything from Roblox to Grand Theft Auto. Gaming can even form part of a schedule, with groups meeting at the same time daily for a nerve-wracking, fun adventure that allows you to lose yourself in an appealing graphic world yet be together at the same time.

Being Lonely can Be Stressful

One study published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology found that “individuals who were chronically lonely were characterized by elevated mean salivary cortisol (stress hormone) levels across the course of a day.” Stress is a known trigger, and should be avoided through both technological and traditional means. Controlled breathing — also known as pranayamic breathing — is just one all-natural yet powerful way to reduce stress.

Isolation Can Reduce Focus

During recovery, it is vital to remain focused on your goals. A study by RF Baumeister has shown, however, that focus/attention is impaired when one feels socially excluded. It can also affect your ability to regulate your eating behavior. Former studies had also shown that socially excluded teens were more likely to indulge in overeating. To stay on top of things, list your goals down daily in a diary and make sure you tick off all the individual steps that are required to achieve them.

The Effect on Long-Term Health

Feeling lonely can also affect aspects relating to heart health. Lonely young adults, for instance, have higher levels of ‘vascular resistance’ than non-lonely people of this age. High vascular resistance essentially stresses the lining of blood vessels. This is a known precursor of vascular problems such as hypertension and clogged arteries. To counter this effect, ensure you get active through a combination of cardiovascular and strength exercises. 

During the time of COVID-19, it is important for people in recovery to look for ways to connect and socialize via technology, phone calls, and the like. Isolation has long-term consequences that can lead to serious mental and physical issues. Joining online classes and forums, gaming, and stress-busting activities such as yoga, meditation, and breathing can all help reduce the effects that loneliness can cause, helping you stay motivated enough to make healthy lifestyle choices.