Another problem with being alone is paranoia. Older people tend to become paranoid due to memory losses. I can't find my wallet or my keys or my glasses, etc.; someone must’ve taken them. Our brains like to find reasons for things, and so, if something is missing, someone must have taken it. It is a knee-jerk reaction that happens to me when I can't find something. This is exacerbated when alone with no one to check on reality. The stress of isolation affects the brain as it is engaged in dealing with other stressors. As a result, the brain is less likely to be able to perform higher-level tasks or store memories.
Facing no one but ourselves all day, we also tend to exaggerate every little glitch. We tend to overreact because there is nothing and no one to mitigate these feelings. Whether one feels bored or overwhelmed, it is all too easy to get off track and lose sight of what is important, as well as find it difficult to stay focused and recalibrate.
David Brooks, a columnist for The New York Times, once made a list of the six basic needs humans have in order to live a meaningful life. They are certainty, variety, significance, connection, growth, and contribution. As I look at these, I realize that all six needs may be missing while we are isolated due to the ongoing pandemic. We lack certainty in the political climate we are living in. I have a pervasive feeling of low-grade anxiety whenever I read the paper or watch the news on TV. Everything seems to be up for grabs these days. Variety is lacking in our daily lives; our days merge into one another with unavoidable sameness. Significance has to do with membership in a group in which we have a role to play, but many of those groups and roles are defunct. Connection to others, family and friends, is difficult to sustain when face-to-face interaction is not possible. Growth is the opportunity to learn, to become wiser; that is actually doable to some extent with Zoom, on-line classes, and reading. Finally, contribution is the possibility to be of service. This is challenging without the option of being around others, but it is possible to be helpful by reaching out.
How can we help ourselves in these times of being isolated? My suggestion is to connect with at least one other person not only on a daily basis, but even several times a day. This is to get away from an emphasis on one’s own life and become involved with someone else’s life, someone else’s thoughts and feelings. This can be done through phone calls, texts, emails, FaceTime, or Zoom—whatever is feasible for you and your friends and family. The frequency is important because we are then aware of the minutiae of someone else’s life.
Decide to read the same book as a friend and then set aside time to discuss it. Watch the same TV show or video or attend the same Zoom event, anything to start a conversation and share reactions. For example, I sit every evening at sunset with two friends and their dogs; with each passing day, the conversations become more intimate, more revelatory, as we get away from only thinking about ourselves.
For further mental stimulation, Zoom provides many wonderful opportunities to take classes, attend conferences, learn something new. I exercise via Zoom every day. Exercising sends endorphins to our brains which helps to calm us down. Challenging ourselves to get out of our complacency is really important. Each and every activity contributes toward a healthier, happier mental attitude. I could easily just sit in my recliner all day, but I asked Alexa to remind me every hour to get up and walk around.
I hope this column will help you, my readers, stay engaged with the perspectives of others in these very difficult times. It is a challenge we all face every day.
Natasha Josefowitz is the author of 21 books. She currently resides at White Sands Retirement Community in La Jolla. Copyright © 2020. Natasha Josefowitz. All rights reserved.