Social Isolation Doesn't Have to Mean Emotional Isolation | Opinion

It seemed inevitable that the U.K. government would compel everyone to self-isolate as the coronavirus continues to spread around the world. Other European countries including Spain and France have already battened down the hatches and issued compulsory isolation orders. At the very least parts of the U.S. might soon follow suit.

Many people have made the point that, whilst it may be the most appropriate action to take, social isolation of this kind comes with its own problems, and we should be ready for them. Social isolation can increase the risk of mental health issues such as depression, dementia, social anxiety and low self-esteem. One American Psychological Association article even ran the headline: "Social isolation: It could kill you."

The reasons for this is that social isolation is often a cause of emotional isolation. The lack of meaningful emotional relationships can be devastating for human beings (or even simply the perception that you lack them.) We're highly social animals who, however individualistic we might believe ourselves to be, depend on others in all sorts of ways, especially emotionally.

But as whole societies shut up shop, and their citizens traipse indoors with a destabilizing uncertainty about when they might be let out again, it's vital that we understand that social isolation doesn't have to mean emotional isolation. In fact, in many cases it can be an opportunity for us to connect more deeply.

You'll know this if you've ever attended an immersive meditation course. You realize very quickly how powerful spending time with yourself can be, and how these ancient tools can help you to enjoy a depth of inner experience that you may never have enjoyed before—at least not legally.

When we relax the nervous system, it enables us to reconnect with ourselves. In so doing, we familiarize ourselves with our deepest values, and our deepest humanity. We connect with something essential. It's a bit like coming home, to a place that feels so natural, so effortless, and so right, that you realize you've been missing something very important all along. This realization enables us to better connect with others, because there is no longer a gap between who we are deep down, and what we present to the world.

This understanding alone—so far removed from the usual Western understanding of what it is to be "connected"—can be a comfort to those dreading the long days inside over the next few months. But we might also turn to those devices and apps usually blamed for increasing our feeling of disconnection from one another.

The word device suggests something that we can use, and use, we think, because it has a positive influence on our ability to live and be human. The problem with most of our devices is that we use them in such a way as to strip them of their positive qualities. But we can change this. You can, for example, use a device to tune into a guided meditation, which will almost certainly reduce your emotional neediness and sense of disconnection. Our you can use it to communicate face-to-face with others—no substitute for the real thing, but better than the toneless and detached communication we usually have over our phones and computers.

But you could also use your device to take part in a breath workshop, to learn a new language, to find new recipes, to exercise in new ways, or simply to engage with those things that uplift your life. There are many positive things you can do.

So, in the midst of all of the negativity and confusion, let us seize the day and make the most of it. Let's understand that being alone doesn't have to mean feeling alone, and that our isolation can help us rediscover our underlying humanity, connect with what is most important to us, and deepen the compassion we need so badly in these challenging times.

Let's use tech to help keep us in good shape, physically and mentally. Our busy schedules are often the single biggest excuse we give ourselves for not engaging in more positive behavior. We don't have that excuse anymore, and it's down to each and every one of us to decide: do we wish to be defeated by the isolation, and find ourselves becoming even more numb, and lonely? Or would we like to break the cycle, reconnect with our essential selves and rediscover our deepest humanity?

The choice is ours. We must remind ourselves of the suffering currently experienced around the world and make intelligent choices that will limit the spread of this challenge to humanity. But for those of us staying indoors, we should also remember that sometimes not getting what we want and being forced out of our comfort zones ends up being the best thing that ever happened to us.

Will Williams was the wellbeing advisor for over 33 companies, including Netflix, Spotify, Sony, Google DeepMind, and Goldman Sachs. He is the author of The Effortless Mind (2018), and the founder of World Meditation Day.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​