COVID GOES ON
COVID GOES ON
If you’re in isolation because you have tested positive for COVID-19 and, like me, you live by yourself you might be feeling a little lonely right now. I consider myself a homebody and do not need a lot of socialising, but this is extreme, it feels like I’ve been banished to a desert island. I was doing some research on oxytocin recently, sometimes its called the cuddle hormone. Oxytocin is a neurochemical released in your brain through closeness with people. Skin-to-skin contact releases oxytocin, for example, a person gets a big hit during sex, and mothers get a hit during childbirth and breastfeeding. However, you don’t have to interact with someone else, just being in the same physical space with others can do the trick, like a coffee shop, restaurant or going to the gym, all the things we can’t do when isolating.
I know not everyone who is alone is lonely, and I generally love my solitude, but you can have too much of a good thing. Loneliness can impact our mental health in the same way high blood pressure, lack of exercise, obesity, or smoking can.
We humans are social animals who need contact with one another, your brain needs it for survival. There is safety in numbers, which is why your brain likes to be part of a group and feels stressed when it’s not. Whether it’s fish or humans, animals that find themselves on the periphery of their social groups are the ones most at risk from predators, being in that type of danger causes the brain to stay in self-preservation mode, always on alert.
These days isolation is not just short-term when we test positive for COVID-19, many of us are now working from home regularly, I do, and I rarely leave the house or interact with others. I’m mindful that this can lower my oxytocin levels, and whilst it is important that I make the effort to connect in-person with someone to keep the oxytocin flowing, its also important for me to know there are alternatives ways to achieve the same outcome, other than the obvious making a phone call of course.
Music: Science shows us that listening to music or singing produces a “social flow” resulting in a big release of oxytocin. Singing releases endorphins, your brain’s feel-good chemicals, and stimulates the production of oxytocin. Group singing, in particular, has been found to lesson depression and loneliness, but singing alone also has advantages. I prefer signing alone, not sure a group is ready for my tone deafness, but it does make me feel good.
Connect with a Pet: This is easy for me; I have three dogs who I hug all the time, and they are always happy to oblige. There are countless stories about how our furry friends aid people’s mental health. Of course, cats and dogs meet the need, but even bunnies, birds, or reptiles can help. A pet provides comfort, companionship, and a routine, they give us a sense of purpose and provide social interaction. Just stroking your pet or even someone else’s can increase oxytocin, endorphins, and dopamine in your brain.
Make Eye Contact: Maintaining eye contact with someone creates a calming effect and after about 60 seconds triggers a release of oxytocin. As you experience this chemical surge each time eye contact is maintained, those small boosts can add up to a sustained good feeling. While isolating, you can make eye contact safely online or through your phone, fortunately for me. And lots of you I imagine, studies show that even making eye contact with a dog with which you have a bond increases oxytocin levels, who knew?