Social Distancing, Isolation, and How to Stay Healthy
We are in unprecedented times with the outbreak of COVID-19, which has made it incredibly difficult for many to be alone. Many of us are working from home and keeping ourselves isolated to avoid becoming infected or potentially spreading the virus. However, this seclusion can trigger our minds to begin a negative phase of withdrawing. Therapists understand that these harmful thoughts can lead to adverse emotions like hopelessness, and these feelings can result in undesirable actions creating a cycle that strains our immune system.
Living in a state of fear activates our sympathetic nervous system. The fight/flight response releases stress hormones that deplete the resources needed to support our immune systems. A strong immune system is our defense against viruses and bacteria. A friend of mine, Dr. Dan Siegel, a clinical professor of psychiatry and founding co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA, discusses the “mind” and how it affects the entire body and shapes the activity of the immune system.
Everyone needs a healthy immune system, and now more than ever. There are several factors we can incorporate to aid and assist our immune systems. For example, limiting our intake of media, exercising, eating healthy, and staying connected to others are all good ways to keep out immune systems healthy.
Connection is vitally important during this time of isolation due to COVID-19. Many of my clients are in crisis mode from their worsening symptoms as a result of the quarantine. They feel the confinement is too limiting, and, in some ways, they are right. However, creating connections with our loved ones can be exceptionally liberating. The quarantine has provided all of us time to be still and connect with our families. An occasion, even amid the uncertainty, to reconnect with God and His people. Connection is our lifeblood, and healthy relations foster healthy minds, which, in turn, produce strong immune systems.
Therapy is certainly a way to cope with the stress of the pandemic. Numerous forms of telehealth are available across the country, so checking in with a therapist is probably a good idea. Counselors need to have real answers and not hamper their clients with lots of clinical talk. Everyone is under stress spiritually, physically, emotionally, and financially. Therapists should connect on a personal level to deliver the help clients want and need.
An essential aspect of connection is commitment, and that is something humans do not always do well. As professor emeritus neuroscientist and author, Dr. Michael Merzenich, points out, “First of all, in order to control anything in your brain, you need a strong executive—a strong captain of your ship.” Dr. Merzenich recommends engaging in intensive, repetitive, and progressively challenging activities to activate the brain’s plasticity—its ability to change—in a positive way that contributes to building a stronger and healthier mind. He cited the exercises in his brain training program, BrainHQ, as a highly efficient way to target core cognitive skills, noting that engaging in new types of learning challenges that are outside of your comfort zone is healthy for the brain’s machinery. “The whole idea is to build a stronger machine in all of its operations,” said Dr. Merzenich. “If your brain is really vital, if it’s really in command, if it’s really stable and not easily carried off the mark, you’re going to keep your commitments.”
In closing, it is important to keep in mind that “this too shall pass.” I contracted COVID-19 along with my entire family. Fears were certainly stoked, and the “what ifs” surfaced until I began to connect with the ultimate source of connection, Jesus. He is sovereign, and He is in control. Christ is always with us, so we are never alone. He is omnipresent, omniscient, and understands our thoughts and fears. Jesus stands ready to connect with us and provide the comfort and strength we need in difficult and challenging times.
Chris Cambas, M.A., LMFT, is the founder and CEO of National Marriage Seminars and Couplestrong. He is a Clinical Fellow with the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and a Certified Gottman Therapist. Chris uses researched-based counseling for individuals, couples, and families. His therapy focus includes marital conflicts, pre-marital counseling, addictions, anxiety, and spiritual challenges. Chris’s primary focus is working with couples in crisis to renew their relationships through one-on-one marriage intensives.