Solitary mind: cultivating worry

Solitary mind: cultivating worry

One of the challenging things about self-isolation or quarantine is, obviously, the lack of human company you will experience. If you are like me, and live alone, you will be thrown totally onto your own inner resources. If you are quarantined with a partner or other family members, then your challenge will be slightly different: you will find out just how strong an appetite you have for each other’s company. Honestly, I am not sure which one is harder.

As a way to pass the time, especially if you are isolating solo, or as a way to mix up your company (if you are sequestered with another) it is only natural to turn to that great people-connector of our time: social media. I am a mad keen Twitter user – have been for years – and I still reckon that it is an unbeatable platform for fast breaking news. It is also a surprisingly good research tool; alongside Twitter’s notorious population of trolls exists a large and diverse community of thinkers and experts from an array of fields. With a little hunting, the discriminating Twitter user can unearth some interesting commentary or analysis or information.

But, of course, social media has its dark side as well. Even while people connect through it, the trolls use abuse to try to alienate users from causes, communities, and sources of personal enjoyment and meaning. Fake information spreads terrifyingly quickly, and seems to stick to communal thought processes like glue once it has done so. Fake information can be spread by trolls with malicious intent, but also by ‘ordinary’ people who are just misinformed. Negative fake information can heighten people’s levels of anxiety; actual abuse is devastating for the target to experience.

Even if the trolls stay away, ‘normal’ people can, unwittingly, feed the Glowing Worry Machine. My Twitter feed is full of great people; I follow them for their creativity, intelligence, and awareness of social and political issues. But it is these very qualities that can make my Twitter feed an angst-ridden place: sometimes it fairly melts with Tweeters’ outrage or anxiety or confusion about some issue that has recently arisen. Covid-19 is a concerning phenomenon, anyway. Put a bunch of thoughtful, conscientious, relentlessly curious, and accountable individuals together on the one platform and the worry factor can become exponential.

1833 Cholera Pandemic Grandville cartoon
1833 Cholera Pandemic by Grandville


Am I advising you to stay off social media while you are holed up alone? Not a bit of it. Use it to connect with your online mates. Use it to find other people who are self-isolating; remind yourself – and those others – that you aren’t alone in this, and trade reassurances.

One of the things that I love about social media is that it allows me to exchange ideas with people literally on the other side of the planet. In so doing, I am reminded that there is a big beautiful world out there. Used right, social media can provide you with perspective.

But don’t rely on social media alone. Do remind yourself that you are getting less real life interaction than you usually do, and therefore this doesn’t exist to balance out your access to – and impact by – the digital world. Do what you can to hear a variety of human voices. And I mean literally ‘hear’ – phone or Skype people. What better way to fill in time than to ring up friends and family you haven’t seen for a while.

And why not write someone a letter – old-school with pen and paper. Draw them a picture, literally. Write them a poem. Tap into a different part of your brain, slow your thinking down, and see what bubbles to the surface. It may surprise you.

Use social media discriminately, mindfully selecting the parts of it that will bolster your resilience, not chew it up and spit it out into the Glowing Worry Machine.

Recommended resource:

Lots of online resources – courses, reading materials, podcasts – are popping up to offer people something to distract themselves with. I have gathered a few in this collection; just scroll down to the ‘Things to do during isolation’ section.


I derive my income from a mixture of casual and freelance work. If you would like to support me, please consider one of the following:

If you can’t afford to support me because Covid-19 has knocked the stuffing out of your income streams, please know that you have my profound empathy. The very best of luck to you.

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