The inevitability of being locked down contradicts almost every psychological model of wellbeing, motivation, satisfaction and happiness that I know of. Self-isolation, preventing people from human contact, removes control and raises insecurity. In the long term, being prevented or having limited access to human contact goes against human nature.
We are social beings, living in a community and cooperation helped our survival. Hence, the situation we are facing today requires finding alternative ways to stay connected to stay healthy (physically and mentally). Let me talk more about these main psychological struggles and some of the ways to tackle them.
The Need to Belong
Decades ago the pioneering psychologist Alfred Adler talked about one of the core needs of human beings – the need to belong. Later, belongingness was identified as a fundamental human motivator by numerous researchers such as Baumeister and Leary (1995) and Ryan and Deci (2000). These prominent researchers argued that the need to belong is not only crucial for mental health and life satisfaction but is a basis for human survival.
The current self-isolation and social distancing are undermining the core need of belongingness and we need to find new tools to stay related and engaged.
Loss of Control
People are motivated and happy when they feel in control. In fact, the need for autonomy and control are so important that some researchers put these are among our key needs. Research shows that loss of control means poor satisfaction an anxiety and if it continues for a long period of time, it may result in learned helplessness.
Covid-19 leaves people out of control. We must abide to the rules, keep six feet social distancing and wash hands regularly. Within the narrow latitude of actions, we must find ways how to feel in power to make own decisions.
Poverty is a cause of aggression
By far, my greatest concern is related to insecurity, loss of jobs and aggression that may be triggered as a consequence of the two former factors. I have been researching human aggression for around twelve years now and I am very well aware that poverty is one of the key causes for human aggression. In fact, poverty and aggression were brilliantly discussed by the American psychiatrist James Gilligan, who proposed that those disempowered by poverty compensate feeling of inferiority through violence towards others. In the current situation of Covid-19, where hundreds and thousands of people are losing jobs, poverty is a huge threat and we need to think of the ways to stay hopeful and resilient.
Now some solutions…
How to stay connected?
Connect with your local community members. Can you set up a group chat with your neighbors or people in your area where everyone who lives around can join? We did that at the house where I stay, and this allows sharing information, updates as well as gives access to support or just a friendly chat.
Contribution towards wellbeing of others is one of the ways to experience belonging. You can stay connected by helping local community and vulnerable people. If you do not wish to risk by delivering groceries or medicine, you can call those, who are lonely. Contact local charities and volunteering organisations for more information.
Perform acts of kindness. It does not have to be something big. It is enough to share a compliment, give a hug to your family member, message someone with a positive quote or make a nice meal for your family.
Be creative in connecting with others. My colleague and business partner Sonya does yoga and plays badminton with her neighbours over the fence while her neighbour stays connected by doing a live Facebook DJ set and a quiz in the evenings.
Check websites of the venues and organisations, whose events you normally attend. Some may have live streaming sessions where you can interact with artists, performers and audience.
How to stay in control?
Make plans for each week and write them down tackling three core areas of life. Adler argued that individuals achieve happiness and satisfaction when they advance in three tasks of life, i.e. (1) love and family, (2) friendship and community and (3) work. Besides, planning and creating a daily routine is a way of staying in control.
Stay active, exercise. This will help you to achieve two goals: stay connected and feel in control. If you can, exercise with other people via live-streaming sessions. If live-streaming is not accessible to you, watch videos where instructors are engaging and make you feel connected.
Practice mindfulness and meditation. When I try to explain what mediation is, I say that it is like going to your mind’s gym. You exercise your mind and this way gain better control of it.
Learn. This is the time to enroll for on-line courses, read books, master new skills. I have started on-line courses delivered by film directors, ordered a new book by Hartmut Rosa and got an easel along with some paint so I can resume my drawing, which I haven’t practiced for about 15 years. Learning helps to experience joy and satisfaction in the “here and now”.
Covid-19 poses serious threats. Social media, television and radio are overwhelmed with frightening messages. However, I choose to believe that people are mindful of the situation and do not need to hear more threats. What we do need is ideas on how to stay connected, feel in control and find security in the uncertainty of the future.
Dr. Milda Perminiene
Co-founder of MS Research and Training Academy