In pre-pandemic times, Chris Glass identified himself first as a WestJetter, second as a volunteer high school football coach. The self-confessed extreme extrovert fit right into the bubbly corporate culture of WestJet, so when he lost both his livelihood and his passion last spring, it was devastating.
“You go from 20 years of working with people who fill up your cup and suddenly it’s gone overnight. The things I normally did to take care of myself vanished. It felt like somebody died.”
Like many of us, Glass, a Calgarian, has been working through a variety of emotions during this pandemic, with loneliness due to forced physical isolation at the forefront.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, we’re spending more time alone than ever before, and it’s common to confuse being alone with being lonely, though they’re two different concepts.
“Being alone is a state. Loneliness is more of a feeling or perception. You can be in a room full of people and still feel lonely because you’re not connecting with others,” explains Melanie Gilbert Chiu, a counselling therapist with Calgary Alternative Support Services.
“Loneliness is how we view our connections with other people. It’s about feeling invisible and unvalued. That’s especially a problem for people with barriers — those with lower income or having diverse differences that aren’t valued in our society.”
The consequences of physical isolation and not being allowed to fraternize with others in order to bring down COVID-19 case numbers are significant.
According to Cindy Negrello, director of operations at Canadian Mental Health Association, when you’re used to living in a society where you’re allowed to do what you want (within reason) and that’s taken away from you, not only does it quickly turn into a breeding ground for feelings of loneliness and depression, but also anger, at the loss of what we deem to be our social rights.
“It’s concerning. Cognitively, people understand when they’re told to stay home for protection, but emotionally they’re exhausted. Most people can isolate for a certain amount of time, but it really is a factor on people’s psyches as it becomes part of our reality. The frustration is increasing.”
Warning signs include feelings of hopelessness, dark thoughts you’re not able to pull yourself out of, changes in sleeping or eating patterns and not taking care of yourself as you did previously.
Fortunately for Glass, his struggles with COVID-induced isolation didn’t last long.
“I knew if I continued down that path it wouldn’t lead anywhere good. I gave myself a time limit to come up with a plan. I knew it would be easier to change now then in a month.”
Wisely, Glass realized he wasn’t alone. He rallied his former co-workers for daily video sessions where they’d work to improve specific computer skills. Creating a routine that felt similar to work was only one part of his plan. Next was exercising, going for a bike ride immediately after his video call. Additionally, he realized he felt lost without the social connections from football, and that his players were likely feeling the same sense of loss. Glass used his free time to edit 20-years-worth of coaching film and organized a team review twice a week.
“I ended up with jam-packed days that felt normal. Instead of feeling lost, I felt a renewed sense of purpose with physical, personal and mental development. It was a reason to get up every morning,” he admits.
By establishing and maintaining a schedule, Glass honed in one of the most effective strategies for mitigating loneliness and depression.
“Routine keeps us connected in a very disconnected world,” says Negrello. “Even if you don’t want to turn on the Zoom camera, we know getting ready for the day as if going to office improves levels of feel-good chemicals. Being structured keeps us in that hopeful stance — that we will get back. When we get out of our daily norm, is when we see things start to slip,” she warns.
Finding a routine and productive activities was key to Glass’s recovery. And fortunately, he didn’t waste time in rediscovering his sense of purpose.
“If you wait for the perfect reason to take a step, you might be waiting awhile. Don’t wait for perfect. Just start moving,” he recommends.
Tips for mitigating loneliness during quarantine
Have a conversation with your family doctor or seek help through valid sources such as Calgary Alternative Support Services (CASS), Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), Calgary Counselling Centre, Catholic Family Service and Health Canada for additional tips and resources.
Check out CASS YouTube videos on coping strategies: Youtube.com/c/CassOrg1/videos
CMHA offers free online courses and a peer support line. Visit: cmha.ca
Talk2Nice provides free phone support services for older adults and persons with disabilities. Call toll free: 1-844-529-7292.
Set up regularly scheduled video calls in lieu of happy hour or traditional family dinners, to connect with those you care about.
Reap the benefits of physical exercise and being outdoors by participating in physically distanced walks.
Mail letters or cards. Although emails and text are quicker, there’s an element of physical connection that comes from sending and receiving snail mail.
Follow Jody’s health and wellness adventures on her blog TravelswithBaggage.com or on Instagram @TravelswBaggage.