Tending to Ourselves During Isolation

This issue of The Drop is a part of a three-part series on intimacy and relationships from contemplative guide Kirat Randhawa

Developing an intimate relationship with ourselves is one of the more important pursuits we may ever explore in our lives - and that’s because our relationship to self is the most important relationship in our life. It sets the foundation for how we treat others, the kind of people we attract, and the way we move throughout the world. However, when we aren’t receiving healthy amounts of social reinforcement and feelings of belonging, the experience of loneliness can begin to influence how much access we have to cultivating joy in solitude. Our social relationships nourish our relationship with ourselves, and vice versa. Being confined to our homes during quarantine has highlighted a spectrum of emotions in how we relate the self and the narratives we hold about who we think we are. Although this case of loneliness is more prevalent, research shows that feelings of loneliness have been steadily increasing each year due to cultural and environmental factors like technology use and increased online connectivity. 

Experts of loneliness illustrate the effects of social isolation as a more significant risk factor for premature mortality than other leading health indicators. Loneliness has been shown to correlate with higher levels of perceived stress, increased suicide risk, higher blood pressure, decreased quality of social interaction, and impaired sleeping cycles. There are many ways to combat loneliness, and understanding loneliness as a biological cue rather than an emotion can increase the motivation to participate in actively decreasing its presence. Just like hunger, says John Caccioppo, loneliness resembles an impulse to find and maintain social connection in order to survive and flourish. Engaging in activities that benefit the well-being of others has been known to reduce feelings of loneliness and increase meaning in one’s life, like volunteering for a specific, aligned cause. Seeking out communities who share similar values and interests can provide spaces of comfort and safety and make it easier to foster connection with others.

Other ways to cultivate intimacy and enhance feelings of connection include developing an introspective practice (either daily, weekly, or any frequency that feels right) like meditation, journal exercises, mindful movement, bath rituals, or enjoying a cup of tea/coffee in silence or with favorite music. Choosing to schedule joyful activities can also be excellent sources of support like Friday night film nights, daily reading, calling a loved one, exploring new recipes, going for a walk, etc. What these activities have in common is the ability to tend to the self with friendliness, love, and presence to build compassion within. Self-compassion is the foundational attribute in which all other experiences of self-intimacy arise from. Researchers conceptualize self-compassion into two components: empathy, the ability to attend to and sense the suffering of oneself, and altruism, the impulse to do something to end that suffering.

As we nurture ourselves during this period, bringing self-compassion to the forefront of anything we do can make all the difference. There are formal techniques that can be used to strengthen feelings of self-compassion, like meditation, journaling, and treating oneself like a friend. The buddhist practice of metta, or loving kindness, provides a framework for developing qualities associated with compassion, like acceptance and non-judgement, through a meditative experience. In this practice, participants repeat a series of well wishes toward the self that represent the desire for one to be well, safe, happy, and free from suffering. Journaling prompts that focus on raising self-awareness have also shown benefit in feeling closer to oneself, such as “I release X and welcome Y,” "The kindest thing I can do for myself in this situation is...,” “I am feeling X, Y, Z in my body and that makes me feel X, Y Z,” “What would feel supportive for me is...,” and “It’s healthy and normal for me to be feeling X, Y, Z, and there’s nothing wrong with that.” In addition, incorporating more rituals into one’s life can develop more intentionality and bring more comfort and joy throughout the day. These rituals may resemble buying fresh flowers once a week, enjoying a favorite dessert from a local coffee shop, creating an altar with objects that provide inspiration, lighting a candle and setting the space before meditation, spending time dancing mid-afternoon to invite movement and reset the mind, or scheduling a Zoom call with loved ones each weekend. 

If you’re not sure where to start, we’ve got you covered. Check out our playlist below while taking a walk, bath, or movement break, and see what inspiration arises from there.