The corona crisis and the challenge of too much closeness or solitude

Closeness – (not) a question of distance

It makes no difference if you live with someone, or alone. Both can be negatively intensified due to the corona crisis, which is also heightening the psychological strain in us.
Proximity to others in your living space can become unpleasant. Opportunities to meet friends or family members are limited. How can we nurture our relationships with others and ourselves despite this unprecedented situation?

This question is answered by our colleague David Siegenthaler, qualified psychological counsellor and certified couples counsellor in this article. At this point we would like to say a big thank you to David for his guest article.

When there’s too much closeness...

It helps when you clearly structure your daily routine. Plan when you will get up, eat together, and work. But free time, too, needs orientation. Define specific times in which you take a room exclusively for your own use and times when someone leaves the house for an hour or two (e.g., to go for a walk). The additional time can also be seen as a gift for more couple-time.

  • Make a date. Make the date meaningful by doing something special in the evening. Make an effort with your appearance, make sure you scrub up nicely and wear appropriate clothes. Arrange the room attractively and atmospherically with decorations, music, lights and candles. But how you handle it can also make the evening more interesting. Maybe have two dates, each with one of you spoiling the other. Whether with great food, a massage, a cuddle date or an interesting evening in bed. If it brings you together and does you both good, it’s allowed.
  • Get creative and try new things. Consider what you would like to experience in your extra free time with your partner. This could be, for example, playing games, cooking, watching a favourite old film, playing music, decorating a room or writing a story.
  • Try new things and learn. Exercising your body regularly and new educational content for your brain keeps us flexible and helps to prevent illness. Take an online course (on YouTube, for example) in a type of sport that you can do at home, acquire new abilities (cooking, painting, dancing, a new language, a subject you really want to get to grips with, e.g., on the internet, or with a book, juggling, and so on).
  • Tackle old projects. The time has now come for you to get around to it. Have you wanted to tackle some projects since forever, but couldn’t? Now you can, so it’s time to get busy.
  • Couple’s conversation exchange. Frequent and ongoing arguments can also become a problem. Make sure that you do not have serious rows in front of the children. For this purpose, setting up argument times is recommended. You argue for 30 minutes on two days of the week. It’s best if you use a timer. After an argument, it is important to take a break to digest what you said and heard. You are likewise recommended to suppress impulsive behaviour and to include these issues in the argument time.

When there’s too much solitude...

Solitude can also trigger a great deal of pain and grief. Even if you live alone, it is important to structure your daily life and find a routine, so you don’t drift into lethargy. However, solitude also has advantages.

  • Finally, time for yourself. Without people constantly being around you, you can devote time to yourself uninterruptedly. People who have a loneliness problem often focus more on others than they do on themselves. Now you have the opportunity to get to know yourself better. Perhaps you will learn that you are not completely alone with yourself after all. Mindfulness exercises are particularly suitable for this. Use them to practise better self-awareness. One of the best-known and most successful is the breathing exercise in which you concentrate exclusively on your belly as it rises and falls. Empty your head of thoughts as much as you can, and concentrate only on your breathing. You will find that this is harder than you realised. Frequently the first thoughts will start to cross your mind after only a few seconds. Don’t get angry with yourself about this, but acknowledge the thought that seemingly occupies you now. Then let it go and concentrate on your breathing again. Set your timer for 15 minutes and repeat the exercise regularly. You will find that, with time, you become much better at focusing on your breathing, that you know your thoughts much better and that the exercise always leaves you feeling more tranquil.
  • Accepting negative feelings. We often struggle against negative feelings. Understandably so! Because who actually wants to feel scared, sad or alone (in the negative sense)? But our brains do not understand the word “no”. So, if I say to you: please do not imagine a pink elephant with blue spots, your brain will still tend to imagine it, although I explicitly asked you not to. The same thing happens in the struggle against negative feelings. Instead of fighting them, I recommend that you accept them. Regard your negative feelings like a black cloud in the sky. It comes and goes, but it is allowed to just be there. It is normal to feel bad in life sometimes. We can’t always feel good. In the same way, our bodies frequently cannot sustain a negative feeling at the same strength forever. So, if we accept the negative feeling, in the knowledge that it will sooner or later go away of its own accord, negative feelings have less power over our wellbeing.
  • Develop a friendly approach to yourself. Sometimes we judge ourselves much more severely than we judge others. That is precisely when it makes sense to find a friendly, loving approach to yourself. Beliefs statements about yourself such as “I am worthless” or “I am bad” or “nobody loves me” are particularly strong at that time. To counteract this, it can help to develop a new belief statement about yourself. This could be, for example “I am good as I am” or “I am loveable”. When you have found something better to tell yourself, write it down, say it aloud to yourself and think of an image for the phrase that gives you strength. Here, too, practice makes perfect. Regularly repeating the phrase will help to consolidate and intensify the new message.
  • Becoming more familiar with your own needs. At first it can be difficult to focus only on your own needs. But it is also exciting to discover what you want to do for yourself, when you only have yourself to think of. Needs could be: fun, security, relaxation, enjoyment, exercise, variety, personal fulfilment (learning or creating something), inspiration and more. Maybe one of these areas interests you and you would like to pursue it further?
  • Regular video-calls. Have regular video-meetups with acquaintances, friends and colleagues to continue to nurture your own need for closeness and interaction. These could be serious conversations about fears and worries, but also humorous, funny and stress-free. Or you could meet together virtually for a “joint” meal.