The Weird Technique That Relieves Anxiety & Loneliness
It’s been one year since our lives drastically changed. Schools shifted to virtual learning, many of us were scrambling to set up home offices, and some lost their jobs. Life looks somewhat different today. But we can see the light at the end of the tunnel; there is hope.
With so many drastic changes, 2020 also saw a rise in stress, anxiety, and loneliness. The American Psychological Association reports that 78% of Americans say the coronavirus pandemic is a significant source of stress in their lives. I’m part of that group.
As anxiety and stress increase, self-care is essential, whether that’s through outdoor exercise, getting into nature, yoga, reading more, unplugging from technology, or breathing exercises. I enjoy going for a run. Being outdoors is my go-to. (In cases of extreme stress, anxiety, loneliness, or a psychological disorder, seek the help of a professional.)
If we don’t care for ourselves, we’re unable to care for others.
There are many techniques and practices to help us navigate stress.
Let me introduce you to a method that neuroscientists have found useful. You may already do this and not even realize it’s an actual practice. Enter: havening. Neuroscientist Dr. Ronald Ruden created havening techniques a decade ago. Havening uses gentle touch to the upper arms, hands and face, and constructive messaging to replace stressful responses with healthier ones.
Havening can be as simple as rubbing your hands together, on your face, or through your hair when you feel stress rising. You may do these simple acts without even realizing it. But neurologically, it helps your brain cope with stress.
You may be asking, how does this help? (I know I was).
Havening helps boost oxytocin, a “love hormone” that is typically released through human touch and bonding. Contact is something that we’ve been lacking over the past few months. The hugs, handshakes, and high-fives all help us de-stress. Havening can convince your brain that you are receiving some of this touch.
We are built for community, for relationships, and to do life with other people (in-person, not virtually). This has presented challenges for many as we balance our need to be with people and health concerns. Of course, I’m not suggesting that havening should replace personal contact and touch. But in a world where touch and close proximity is still being limited or feels uncomfortable to many, havening is a great way to calm yourself and the ones you love. It’s also helpful for those who are not comfortable being touched by others.
This technique can also be beneficial for kids, especially as anxiety has risen due to online school and the lack of time with friends. If your child has been struggling with meltdowns, anger, or anxiety due to loneliness, encourage them to pause, take a deep breath, and wrap their arms around themselves in a big bear hug. It may seem weird at first, but practicing havening can help you feel more grounded and connected.
We have learned much over these past 12 months. We’ve learned resilience, flexibility, what’s important, and that we are made for relationships. We’re made to be with other people, and our brains need that connection, along with physical touch.
As we push forward through this pandemic, continue to take care of yourself and your family. If you haven’t already, figure out what reduces your stress and brings you joy. Use havening if you feel out of control or anxious. Put self-care at the top of your to-do list. And if you take up running, I’ll see you out there.
Other helpful resources:
I was walking in the grocery store the other day and I ran into a friend from high school. We started talking and she asked me about my cousin who went to school with us. Our mutual friend asked how she is doing. I was actually caught off guard because, in reality, I didn’t know how my cousin was doing. She and I have lost touch. I started to think about how disconnected I was feeling from other family members including parents, siblings, and extended family. Then, I considered my children. They don’t have the same memories that I have with my extended family. How can I bridge the gap that has occurred? How can we, as family, stay connected across the miles?
Here are 7 Ways To Stay Connected With Long-Distance Family:
1. Old Fashioned Snail Mail
Mailing correspondence may seem old-fashioned but it is tried and true. Handwriting letters has become a lost art. Letter writing allows you to share in your own words what is happening in your life. It provides a window for your family to see into. Postcards are another tool you can use. If you see a postcard that reminds you of a family member, write a note saying, “I saw this, and I thought of you.” This lets your family know that although miles divide you, they are still on your mind and in your heart.
2. Create A Family Newsletter
Whether you choose to do this monthly, quarterly, or yearly, it provides updates to your long-distance family. It shares with them: honors, awards, funny moments, celebrations. Let your children help design it and have input into it. Make a family logo and motto to go at the top along with a name like, “Keeping Up With The Joneses” or “Watson Family Gazette.” You could do this online or make it a family production and put it into print. ☆ You could make a “chain letter” that gets added to by a family member and mailed to the next person on the list and keeps circulating around your family, keeping everyone in the loop.
3. Send Care Packages
Every holiday season, as a child, I would go with my grandmother as she mailed holiday packages to my uncles who lived out of town. In the boxes would be a pound cake, fruit cake, cookies, preserves, and other sweets. You don’t have to choose the same items. You can create your own theme with the box. One theme could be Our Town. Select items representing the town you live in. You could choose My Favorite Things where you select items your sister, aunt, cousin, or dad loves. Or, even a box of Things That Remind Me Of You.
4. Travel Together
It may be fun to select a location midway between you and your siblings and spend some time there together. It may be fun to coordinate time in the summer with the grandparents and cousins and call it “Cousin Camp.” It may be a blast to schedule a multi-family vacation to the beach, mountains, amusement parks, etc.
5. Book Club
For many, storytime is an integral part of their bedtime routine. Create space for grandparents who live out of town to be “guest readers” via phone, Skype, FaceTime, Messenger or video. Another idea is for the adults in the family to choose to read the same book and then have a discussion about it. Even the kids could read the same book and draw pictures about the scenes or main characters.
6. Go Virtual
Technology is an innovative way in which families can stay connected. It may look and even feel different from the past. Nevertheless, it allows family members to maintain connections. Don’t be afraid of trying some “high-tech” ways to stay in touch with your long-distance family members. Here are some examples:
- Have Virtual Dinner Night: Each family makes the same meal and you sit down ‘together’ at the same time to eat via ZOOM, FaceTime, Google MEET, etc.
- Create Family Group Texts: Families can create a text message group or utilize a messaging app to share information with each other.
- Virtual Game Night: Families can choose to play online games (PlayStation, XBOX), board/card games (UNO, Battleship), Minute to Win It, or Charades via ZOOM or Google MEET.
- Schedule Weekly/Monthly Calls: Families can utilize whatever platform they have available (i.e., Facetime, ZOOM, Skype). On the calls, birthdays, special awards or everyday moments can be shared.
- Facebook: Create a Family Facebook page where you can post pictures, videos, etc.
- Family and Friends Movie Night. (Netflix for Chrome) Families can watch the same movie at the same time while being in their own homes. Then use FaceTime or ZOOM to talk about it.
7. Cardboard Cutout
Select a fun picture of the family member you choose and get a life-sized cardboard cut-out made. It allows your kids to recognize their family members. It’s also a way for that family member to be “present” at events such as a spelling bee, soccer games, or track meets.
If you’re feeling disconnected, that’s when you need to be intentional about communicating and connecting with long-distance family members. Whether you choose to make a phone call spontaneously or you send out a calendar invite for everyone to group chat, making that first step to check-in can change the direction of your connection.
Don’t get discouraged if everyone can’t make everything. We have to recognize that we’re all dealing with life in some form or fashion. Also, remember to stay in touch with family and friends who live close to you. In this current time, everyone could benefit from a call or note letting them know someone is thinking about them.
Feeling Lonely in Your Marriage? Here’s What to Do.
You thought the words “marriage” and “loneliness” were oxymorons. Now you realize that isn’t the case. A Cigna study reports that in over 40% of marriages, one of the partners experiences loneliness and is unable to connect and be vulnerable with their spouse. What do you do if you’re feeling lonely in your marriage?
1. Communicate exactly what you’re feeling to your spouse.
Do not assume your spouse knows how you’re feeling. Keeping a journal where you are able to write down your thoughts and feelings is a good way to ensure that you communicate exactly what’s on your mind. Your partner may or not feel the same way. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment by expecting them to know or because they haven’t sensed the disconnect. That’s not helpful. Ask for their undivided attention, plan a special date or getaway, and be sure to share your heart. Work together to understand each other’s needs and how the two of you can reconnect emotionally.
2. Do a self-check.
It’s possible you’re expecting more from your spouse than they should be expected to give. Your spouse may be making attempts to connect with you and yet you’re unable to shake the loneliness. More and more couples are expecting their spouse to be their best friend, lover, therapist, social partner, and mentor. Studies have shown that couples tend to be less lonely when they have other positive social connections. Think through times where you felt more connected and less isolated. If you entered your marriage battling loneliness, then you may have hoped that the marriage would be the cure. Journaling, connecting with friends, getting sufficient sleep, and practicing mindfulness and self-care may be the antidote to your feelings of loneliness and isolation.
3. Create intentional times to connect.
Coffee and toast each morning. Make sure the kids have a bedtime or at least a lights out and stay in their room time. Monthly date night using a trusted family friend to babysit. Use these times to create a ritual of emotionally connecting, even if it’s just for a few minutes. You can even plan specific questions to ask or topics to discuss.
You may be feeling lonely in marriage because you feel unable to share all of yourself with your partner or because your partner doesn’t share with you. Make a point during your intentional times of connection to ask questions like: “What is bringing you the most joy and the most sadness in your life? What dreams do you have that are the most important to you? Is there anything that concerns or worries you? What do you need the most from me? What makes you feel emotionally safe?” Listen intently to each other giving cues that you’re understanding. (Check out this article on active listening skills—especially the Six Levels of Listening.)
4. Create shared experiences.
Doing fun and engaging activities together releases tensions and can create an environment of safety in your relationship. Dance, karaoke, hike, cook, go on an adventure, etc. Sharing experiences will create memories, spark conversations, and cultivate curiosity about one another. And it releases dopamine which is the “feel good” chemical in your brain.
Be intentional about getting to know each other during these experiences. Understand why your partner enjoys certain activities, what causes them fear or discomfort, and what about doing this with you makes it enjoyable.
5. Seek help.
There may be issues the two of you are finding difficult to discuss, let alone resolve. These issues may be fueling your loneliness. Talk to trusted married friends. Find a good marriage counselor to help you unpack the root of your loneliness and help you get on the path to reconnection.
Loneliness is not an unusual feeling to experience in marriage from time to time. However, it is something that couples can identify and often work together to overcome and grow stronger. Working together to emotionally connect and share yourself with your spouse will help you both reap benefits for your marriage for years to come.
***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***
We are a nation of millions, but Cigna Health Insurance recently released a national survey that reveals we are a lonely nation.
According to the survey of more than 20,000 U.S. adults:
- Nearly half of Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone or left out.
- One in 4 Americans rarely or never feel as though people really understand them.
- Two in 5 Americans sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful and that they are isolated from others.
- One in 5 people report they rarely or never feel close to people or feel like there are people they can talk to.
- Americans who live with others are less likely to be lonely compared to those who live alone. However, this does not apply to single parents/guardians – even though they live with children, they are more likely to be lonely.
- Only a little more than half of Americans have meaningful in-person social interactions on a daily basis, such as having an extended conversation with a friend or spending quality time with family.
- Generation Z (adults ages 18-22) is the loneliest generation and claims to be in worse health than older generations.
- Social media use alone is not a predictor of loneliness. Respondents defined as very heavy users of social media and those who never use social media have similar loneliness scores.
Even though there are more ways than ever before to connect with others, the struggle to feel connected is very real and can not only lead to emotional issues, but physical ones as well.
According to David M. Cordani, president and CEO of Cigna, this lack of human connection ultimately leads to a lack of vitality.
The good news is that this study reinforces that we are social creatures made for relationship and that communities matter. Less-lonely people are more likely to have regular, meaningful, in-person interactions and are in good overall physical and mental health. They have also achieved balance in daily activities, are employed and have good relationships with their coworkers.
More specifically, the survey showed that getting the right balance of sleep, work, socializing with friends, family and “me time” is connected to lower loneliness scores. However, balance is critical, as those who get too little or too much of these activities have higher loneliness scores.
Here are some details:
- Sleep: Those who say they sleep just the right amount have lower loneliness scores.
- Spending time with family: Those who spend more or less time than desired with their family are on par with one another when it comes to experiencing feelings of loneliness.
- Physical activity: People who say they get just the right amount of exercise are considerably less likely to be lonely.
- The workplace: Those who say they work just the right amount are least likely to be lonelyloneliness score of those who work more than desired increases by just over three points, while those who work less than desired showed a 6-point increase in loneliness.
If you are one of the millions feeling trapped by loneliness, here are five strategies for overcoming it.
- Put down the technology. While gaming and social media make you think you are connecting with people, your brain knows otherwise.
- Make a move. When you are lonely, it is easy to tell yourself nobody wants to be around you anyway. If you are breathing, you are meant to be in relationship with others. Making the first move toward relationships with others can often be the most difficult.
- Be intentional about putting yourself in situations where you can have human interaction and create relationships. It could be a class, a recreational hiking club or something else. Think about things you enjoy doing. Find others who are doing that thing and join them.
- Know the difference in being lonely and spending time by yourself. Quiet time to rejuvenate and get your head together is healthy. Spending all of your time alone and away from people is not.
- Find a way to help others, minimize your time alone and utilize your talents in the community.Volunteer at a local food bank, pet shelter or other nonprofit.
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