Thoughts for Men on coping with Social Distancing and Isolation

For many men, the fear of whether ‘I got this’ (virus) is only rivaled by the fear that ‘I don’t got this’ situation under control. Jeff talks about navigating this period of physical isolation with social connection, as well as immunity from sadness and anxiety by learning to name what we are feeling. Jeff also shares antidotes for anger directed towards those we are isolating with.

How are you feeling and coping with everything that’s going on?

Ugh. Here comes Mr. ‘Let’s Talk About Our Feels during an overwhelming pandemic!’ I know, I get it. To be honest, I too cringe at the thought of discussing my emotions and feelings right now during this unreal (or, rather, all too real) COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time I really wanna talk about what I’m feeling and maybe you do too.

We are all wondering if ‘I got this’ (the virus) but many of us men are also wrestling with our anger, fear, sadness, and shame over whether ‘I got this’ (a handle on this new intense reality). As men, we can feel and create pressure for every action we take to be a vaccine for the problems society is facing. I think it’s important to say here that I am not pretending that I’ve got coping with this totally figured out. I don’t. Nor am I fake-projecting resolve, calm and having-my-shit-together in an uncertain time.

We may feel that we need to be a constant solution for our families, our communities, for ourselves right now, instead of a “wimp” who feels afraid, who doesn’t have it together, doesn’t know how to make it better, or how to offer protection against the impending spread of doom and grief on the horizon. Let’s be honest: It’s a normal way to feel under the circumstances!

At this point I want to say hey, you made it past that initial ‘I don’t wanna talk about this‘ reaction, and you’re listening to that feeling inside you, saying: ‘I need to talk about this ‘cause I don’t know if I got this.” I feel the same, and before we continue: This isn’t about judging or shaming you. This isn’t about being better than other men. This is about being better than our yesterdays. This moment doesn’t have to be about disappearing deep within yourself, or being alone your place of shelter. This is about not taking these large feelings out on yourself or those isolating with you. This is about you finding a way through what we are facing and acknowledging what we’re feeling right now, together.

avoid the virus, not your feels.

Many men avoid facing hard topics, personal issues, and emotional matters. It’s our eternal internal struggle of Fight, Flight or Freeze, instead of the other ‘F’: Face. We might do this by distancing ourselves emotionally. Many of us are stranded on islands to begin with: our ‘normal’ reality is to live emotionally distanced from others and disconnected in some way.

Social Isolation has been a growing issue for men of varying ages, and can happen whether we are alone or surrounded by others. Usually it’s due to depression, feeling shame, or lacking relationships that offer meaningful interaction. This version of social isolation we are facing during the novel coronavirus pandemic is a whole other level and it is messing with our ability to function. Emotional isolation is when we aren’t able to, or don’t want to share our emotions with others.

“Mélancolie” by Albert Gyorgy

For some, this global moment might mean feeling further distanced from others emotionally, or it might mean confronting a harsh reminder of our diminishing or disappointing circle of friends. For others working from home, or isolating at home, we might feel that we’re trapped in a tinder box with our partners, children, roommates, or family members.

keeping conflict healthy

In this time of isolation, we will likely come into ‘surface-to-surface’ contact with where we are falling short in our relationships, and a number of us don’t have the tools to identify it, never mind address it. If you are in temporary social isolation with a roommate, a family member, partner, and/or children, you are going to get on each other’s nerves. Tensions may already be high from the massive upheaval of our routines. Maybe we just tough it out. What happens though, when a few weeks become a few months? Oooh boy! There doesn’t need to be an epidemic of ‘COVIDivorce’!. Conflict is part of all relationships.  The Center for Intimate Relationships says: “If handled constructively, conflict can be transformative and mobilizing. Conflict is bound to happen in a relationship… It’s all in how you handle it.

So, how are you gonna handle it? Ignore it? That might work for a time, but stuffing unresolved conflict deep inside, shutting the other person down, criticizing, or passing blame will just add to the stress we’re already feeling.

There is a storm of emotions crashing through all of us right now. It’s okay to name it. David Kessler describes the ‘anticipatory grief’ we are sorting though: “Our primitive mind knows something bad is happening, but you can’t see it. This breaks our sense of safety. I don’t think we’ve collectively lost our sense of general safety like this.” You’re not alone in worrying about how you are coping. What you are feeling is real and it’s okay, it’s what you do, or don’t do about it that matters.

We can choose to practice proactively resolving an issue together. That way we understand where to place our focus. It wasn’t until we saw that famous people were contracting the virus that many North Americans started taking this pandemic seriously. Sometimes it takes putting a face or name to something in order to acknowledge it.

catching feelings: recognize and name what we are feeling.

Men are trying to cope with isolation while dealing with the resulting aftermath of sudden loss of income and the ability to provide, as well as the uncertainty of how to address what faces us and our loved ones. We are also trying to stop the spread of feelings like sadness, fear, rage, or shame within us. We need to be able to identify and name what we are feeling, so we can wrap our heads around these emotions, own them, work with them, and not implode or explode which risks hurt to ourselves or others while we isolate.

In this video, I talk about this by sharing two examples of men (Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump) in leadership during their respective press conference updates regarding the Coronavirus.

Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau was in the middle of a press conference about his government’s response to COVID-19. It was outside the steps of the PM’s residence (he was self-isolating as his wife had tested positive) on a chilly day. Just before taking questions, Trudeau suddenly said: “I should model healthy behaviour…” and then excused himself to quickly run into the house to get a jacket. The TV news crews chuckled, some online made fun of Trudeau, but I think it was a great example of checking in with yourself. He named what was happening for him in the moment (‘I’m cold’), told the press gathered he needed a few seconds, excused himself, and did something about it. During a major pandemic press conference! No biggie.

This little moment on a national stage is a simple example of staying present and recognizing what is happening for us. It’s good to be honest about feeling uncertain while we try to find or model certainty through uncertain times. So take a moment to check in with yourself. Ask: “What am I feeling right now? How am I feeling?”

Jane Clapp, an expert on Body Intelligence who has been offering resources for coping through the COVID-19 crisis, shared a simple practice with me for checking in with what you are feeling. Jane told me to just put the palm of my hand against my chest, and to quietly feel my body, feel what I was feeling. As I did it, I instantly I went from feeling my heart beat, to feeling tension in my chest, to being aware of my entire body. Jane called even a simple action like that being in “dialogue with our body.” It blew me away, like a basic diagnostic test for your physical vehicle. I reflected with her on how you’ll see women and others intuitively place their hand on their chest sometimes while talking, but how some men will make fun of the motion, as we do with anything related to connecting with our emotions.

If we don’t identify and deal with the negative emotions we try to bury deep down within ourselves, they can become their own infectious harm.

slowing the spread of anger

This unprecedented moment is providing a unique challenge for us: immediately react and act against something you can’t see. In a split second you might come in direct contact with the virus, so it requires you to be vigilant from the moment you leave your house. Did I touch the gas station door handle? Did I touch my debit card after? Did I touch my face? We must be present in order to be aware of potential risk or harm. So too, must we be present when we sense tension escalating within us. In a split second, we can react in a way we can’t wash away.

Anger.

I have been waiting for everyone to start posting memes of Jack from ‘The Shining’ as the days blur into weeks of isolating.

The Shining tells a tale of a man in complete isolation with his wife and son, hoping to get work done, but slowly losing it. You can see where a lot of us will relate and share images like this in good fun.

The reality is, just as Jack slowly descended into frustration, losing his ability to cope, and slowly giving into destructive anger, we can just as easily have a not-so shining moment.

I grew up in a home of domestic violence, roughly the same age as Jack’s child ‘Danny’ in the film. I know how it feels when toxic anger surfaces within a place that is supposed to be a shelter. We are hearing more and more about numbers of domestic violence cases as well as an increase in child abuse rising all around the world. Our shelter from the uncertainty outside our walls cannot become a place where those we isolate with face equal uncertainty of their physical and emotional safety. Anger can inform a constructive response, we must never allow it to become destructive.

To help avoid potential moments of disappointment, hurt, or harm we might cause, we can have honest conversations as men when we feel like we are losing it. Allistar Moes of Moose Anger Management talked with the Unshakable Man Podcast about anger. They discussed anger as destructive when we allow it to unleash a sudden reaction to a situation, instead of a guide that highlights an issue that needs constructive action.

take off the mask, step back and exhale


When we feel anger come on, we can name and recognize what it is doing to our bodies (like noting the tension building up within). When it rises, we might go into flight or fight mode, Moes says this is when we disconnect ourselves from love and care. Think of it like a train suddenly taking off and leaving half of its cars behind. Once we recognize anger is suddenly surging, we can step back and pause to collect ourselves, instead of disengaging from the part of us that carries love and empathy.

The pause before we act is the space where we reclaim our power.” – Yung Pueblo


Anger itself isn’t good or bad, but it can become destructive when we are in a place of fear or stress. Rather than go into fight, flight or freeze mode, we can choose to face what we are feeling. Take a step back, and a deep breath. In talking to my friend Gloria Eid, a kindness advocate and life coach, she said your anger needs to be released and expressed, “but not directed at a person” suggesting we find “ways to move through that energy on your own …scream in solitude, vent to a friend, run it off, write, cry, whatever… anger is allowed to exist; rather than lose control of it, process it with consciousness. It is most about awareness and pause, looking inward and asking: ‘What part am I playing in this? Where have I felt this way before in my life? Why is this triggering me? What pain am I transferring onto my partner because I am not ready or willing to face it myself?”  BetterHelp offers lots of good insights on releasing anger.

In regards to the anxiety and stress of isolating from the spread of Covid-19, Moes says: “Watching, reading the news over and over again… The more we attend to things we have no control over, the more out of control we feel. Our heart rate goes up, our blood pressure goes up, our anxiety elevates, and that leaves us much closer to being reactive. So, stop, breath… get our feet back on the ground and less likely to act poorly in this stressful time.”


So while we feel like we are being grounded in our homes, we can still be grounded in our lives and bodies. Eid says consider a daily meditation that lets you focus on breath and body. “Perhaps a physical meditation to get energy flowing. Slow body squats to feel every sensation in the feet, feeling the energy to the earth. We’re conditioned by a system to think strength is a hard heart, but real strength and power live in our ability and courage to soften. Whenever you allow yourself to feel your emotions and body’s sensations, you’re practicing the art of presence. Presence allows for compassion, and compassion allows for love.”

So while we are present in our homes, we can be more present in our bodies, and in how we are coping within everyday situations. We can catch some good habits and spread them among our fellow men.

staying in touch (without touching)

In an interview with the Globe and Mail about his new book ‘A History of Solitude’, David Vincent explains that: “Solitude means being comfortable with your own company. Loneliness is being uncomfortable with your own company. The challenge in front of us now is to keep everyone on the right side of the border – toward solitude not loneliness.”

The solitude of this moment reminds me of apocalyptic fiction, and it sure feels like ‘The Walking Dead’ series helped us prepare for this moment. The quieted, empty streets, and the dread of a horror sweeping in all around us. A key lesson for me from that show was the need to find and nurture a group of supportive allies, to find community.

Our regressive ideas of manhood – that sharing emotion is weak, and being emotionless is ‘strength’ – can end up becoming the emotional prison we isolate ourselves in. The beauty is that the door is unlocked.

Through this physical isolation, maybe we can break out of our emotional isolation, reject violence against others, and habits of self-destruction.

While conversations of self-care are so important, it can present a challenge for men when it comes to the ways we are programmed to retreat into ourselves, solve it by ourselves, and project to the world that we are handling it by ourselves. Making ourselves an island isn’t self-care. We need to take the lead in doing the inner work, but this doesn’t mean we have to do it alone. We can reach out for professional help online, and we can also lean on and nurture a circle of people who support us and want to help us grow.

Harriet Lerner once said: “If we only listened with the same passion that we feel about being heard.” We can let go of thinking that the value we bring as men is to be a solution, or to fix things. In talking to Angus Coll-Smith, a private mental health and addictions counselor, he highlighted the importance of holding space for one another as men:

“Sometimes we don’t know what to say. Sometimes we don’t need to say anything at all. How refreshing it can be to find someone who can just listen and hold space non-judgmentally. How it must feel to be that person. Then imagine how it would feel to find someone like that to open up to. Someone who won’t judge. Or problem Solve. How refreshing it can be to just talk. How nice it can be finding a group of like minded individuals (or an individual ) to help normalize what we’re feeling and remind us we aren’t crazy for thinking or feeling a certain way, and we most certainly aren’t alone.

A friend might feel like they are stranded on an island—so reach out. It is amazing how just one act of kindness can put wind in someone’s sails, enabling them to find their way home.  Learning to actively listen, and sharing it through modelling it, is contagious. Once you do it, other men feel permission to do the same. Relationships Expert Jessica O’Reilly talks in this clip about acts of kindness reducing anxiety.

Right now, that is the kind of community spread we need.

be gentle with yourself and others

Consider this a moment to work on tools and skills we can take forward post-physical distancing and continue to work on for a lifetime. In speaking with my friend Ten (who speaks a lot about feelings) they said: “I really love the concept and practice of self-compassion and I think it’s a super amazing tool for creating more ease and more space in our lives. Kristin Neff’s website self-compassion.com is an incredible resource and great place to start. I think a lot of men might be excited to know that being kind to yourself is supported by solid research. Her book with Christopher Germer called The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook is also great.”

Imago Relationships offers this resource of tips for relationships quarantining together with steps to make it safe to listen and talk with mutual respect and real connection (and there are more resources at the bottom of this post!) Yung Pueblo says: “Improvement is increasing the moments where you act intentionally while also not punishing yourself because you still have room to grow.”

In this moment, more of us are realizing that Our World is a village of relationships.

Many of us spent the last few years grieving over the illusion of community. Perhaps within our collective struggle through anticipatory grief, we can truly foster community. Think of this as an opportunity to reset. A world where we look out for one another, prepare for tomorrow but stay in the moment, check in with ourselves and others, and tell each other ‘I Love You’, is not so far away.

Edited by Ten and Rachel Brittain

emotional immunity tips for men in social isolation

  1. Avoid the virus, not your feels.
    Learn to identify and name what you are feeling.
  2. When you can name what your feeling, take a step back, breathe, and determine a constructive way to address it.
    Don’t diminish your feelings, or those of others. Take a walk, step back, meditate, leave the room for a bit, or stop scrolling through news feeds if you’re feeling something is activated inside.
  3. Check in with yourself.
    Take a deeper look at what’s making you feel a type of way. Release any anger in a healthy and mindful way.
  4. Check in with your partner.
    Talk about what you are working through. You need to do the heavy lifting, but they can be there to help spot you.
  5. Check in with a professional
    Explore resources available for you online.
  6. Self-Care for Men doesn’t mean do it all by your Self: Community Care is key.
    Build community among the men in your life. Text, or SkypeFaceZoomTime with a friend. Listen. Listen some more. Share. Open Up.
  7. Spread Kindness. Spread Love.

spreading resources for men during this time of physical distance and furthering connection.

Keep Your Relationships Strong during Coronavirus Quarantine

Coronavirus Support Guide: How to Fortify Your Relationship and Navigate This Time Together

Jane Clapp’s Free COVID-19 Co-Regulation Session

Learn about Social and Emotional Isolation

Mighty Feels: I’m Having a Feeling and it’s Loneliness.

Anger, The Guardian of Our Boundaries with Alistair Moes (podcast)

How to Release Anger

Working from Home – A Guide for your Wellbeing

That Discomfort You are Feeling Is Grief

Links to Resources and Supports for Women facing Violence.

‘Why Does He Do That? Inside The Minds of Angry and Controlling Men’ by Lundy Bancroft

Jeff Perera on the Unshakable Man Podcast discussing intimacy and vulnerability in male to male friendships.

About jeff perera
Jeff Perera has spoken to tens of thousands of people of all genders across North America about our ideas of Manhood, and how we as men can Be the Lesson in Action.

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