Watchdog Wellness: A Guide to Coping With Self-Isolation

Photo Credit: Becca Tapert

The world is beginning to open back up, but many are still being cautious about how often they’re going out. Humans are wired to need social interaction, and the past 13 months of limited exposure to others have been challenging for many. Here are four tips to help you with self-isolation.

1. Utilize video conferencing apps whenever possible to get oxytocin.

Most people are using video conferencing for work and school, but you can also use apps such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams for virtual social gatherings. You can catch up with friends and family, play, play Jackbox TV, do watercolor paintings, have a meal together, and so much more.

All humans require a brain chemical called oxytocin. According to Bellevue College counselor Yu-Ting Su, “Oxytocin plays a crucial role in social bonding. It, together with other hormones, contributes to our attachments to and romantic relationships with others. When we touch, hug, feel emotionally connected with others and engage in sexual behaviors, more oxytocin is released and makes us feel happy, secure, and more willing to trust others. This is the reason why some call oxytocin the ‘love hormone.’ However, oxytocin can also cause some to struggle. When people are stressed due to being socially isolated and/or in a bad relationship, the level of oxytocin increases to motivate us to connect with others. Unfortunately, high levels of oxytocin can lead to increased aggressiveness in individuals we perceive as outsiders. Elevated oxytocin level may enhance our attachment to someone we feel close to and further distance us from those we don’t know.” In addition to that, “concerns about contracting COVID-19 have also pushed us to make the majority of our social activities virtual. A researcher, Paul J. Zak, reported that we produce around 80% of the amount of oxytocin in video conferences compared to the amount generated during in-person interactions.” Even though less oxytocin is being released, it still is being released, and can still be extremely beneficial.

2.     Use social media to improve your mental health.

There are advantages and disadvantages to social media. According to Su, “If we use social media to maintain or deepen our connections with those we love and care about, it can help us reduce our sense of isolation. Social media can also serve as a platform for us to express our creativity and/or continue to engage in the hobbies, topics or communities we care about. Nonetheless, if we tend to compare ourselves with the posts of other’s statuses in social media, it may generate more anxiety and depression. Additionally, it depends on the individuals whom you interact with on social media. We have heard about cyberbullying and its extremely detrimental effects on our mental health, especially on our youth.” Finding positive news on social media can also help you to get into a better mood. If you find that social media gives you negative feelings, you may want to restrict your usage. Otherwise, there are tons of benefits to using social media.

3.     Physically interact with people when you can.

You can still get together with people as long as you keep the gathering small. According to the CDC, if you are fully vaccinated, you can visit in a home or private setting without a mask with other fully vaccinated people or visit with one other unvaccinated household without a mask, as long as nobody in the household is at risk for severe illness. Identify your social bubble and interact with them. Another potential option is to volunteer in your community. Eastside Baby Corner in Issaquah is currently taking volunteers. Lastly, outdoor activities are fairly safe and are fun to do with friends. With the weather warming up, you could always consider going on a hike or going to a nearby beach.

4.     Remember the importance of self-care.

When most people think of self-care, they think of aesthetic spa face masks and getting a pedicure. Self-care is actually just doing whatever you need to do to feel better. That may be catching up in school, reading a book or getting together with a friend. You just have to do what you need. According to Su, some students have said having a small group of friends check in on them has been helpful. Also, spending time with friends and doing your hobbies is super important. If you need it, remember to seek help. The counselors at the Bellevue College counseling center can support you with your mental health.