Mental Notes with Hilary Valdez: Isolation and Quarantine

Mental Notes with Hilary Valdez: Isolation and Quarantine

by Hilary Valdez
Stripes Okinawa

Well, here we are. Social distancing, sheltering-in-place and wearing a mask. Doing our part to help flatten the pandemic curve. Many places are shut down, so it's not even a choice about whether or not to maintain social isolation.

Isolation separates sick people from healthy people. It’s not fun but preventing the spread of infection is necessary and the standard precautions range from least to most difficult. Hand washing, wearing a mask and self-isolation are probably the easiest. Quarantine can be difficult, and can occur in a hospital, at home, a hotel, or a deserted tropical island with palm trees.

Alone in quarantine

Quarantine has it challenges. For instance, it can test how much contact we can tolerate with family, friends, or relatives. During imposed quarantine, being alone, without companionship, or social contact includes a risk for depression and anxiety.

When a stay-in-place quarantine occurs, anxiety can occur that includes feelings of worry, nervousness, or dread. Occasional moments of anxiety are natural and sometimes even productive for your mental health. Moments like this test your character and tolerance. Keep your sense of humor. And in your quiet moments, explore the meaning of your life and what is important to you.

Social isolation

Here’s the rub. People in relationships need time to themselves. When we are isolated, family interactions intensify. Isolation time can be a time for getting close to others. It can be a moment to share ideas and feelings. Time to be transparent: talk about your happiness, grief, fears, anger, and possibly love. Don’t let closeness scare you. It’s a precious moment to bond. Don’t just sit there. Do something. Create something. Find meaning and purpose in this situation.

Being in close quarters is a time to discuss how we think about the situation and how we feel about it. It’s a time to let down our defenses. “Lower the bridge-don’t raise the gate.” Sure, social isolation can increase loneliness if discussions focus on arguing about problems; this could lead to depression. Keep it positive and, if you are alone, reach out to others.

Break down the walls, build bridges

Finding solutions to curb chronic loneliness and isolation is very challenging, especially for older adults (Call your grandparents and parents!). Isolation, when caused by environmental conditions beyond your control, is stressful. Social isolation is a major health risk that can increase the risk of premature death. It’s the feelings of loneliness or sense of social isolation that is mentally and emotionally disruptive. So, step one: stop building emotional walls; and two, start building bridges between one another. As humans, we need social connectivity combined with our need for human loving-kindness. (Have you had a hug today?)

Humans are social creatures and it is inherent to our cognitive and mental health to connect with others. Being connected to others socially is a basic human need, important for well-being and survival. So, while you’re harrumphing around, connecting with others with a gentle smile and a hello are a good start. Or, maybe, a grumpy “Good morning,” with coffee.

Re-frame your attitude

In any case, when the cabin fever starts to set in, re-frame your attitude about social isolation, feeling lonely, or feeling sorry for yourself. Rejoice! If you act happy, or laugh out loud, you’ll be happy. This is called a “paradoxical intention.” Try it. It sounds silly, and it is, but it will make you laugh and shift your attitude.

This temporary moment of isolation is an opportunity for introspection and interpersonal growth. Don’t hold back. Engage in meaningful conversations. Reach out! Have a “tele-dinner” or “tele-coffee” with friends on Zoom or Skype. Don’t sit around eating Humble Pie. Regardless of age, color or gender, we all need about the same amount of love and human connection.


Danger Beyond Intrigue /


Hilary Valdez is a retiree living in Japan. He is an experienced Mental Health professional and Resiliency Trainer. Valdez is a former Marine and has worked with the military most of his career and most recently worked at Camp Zama as a Master Resiliency Trainer. Valdez now has a private practice and publishes books on social and psychological issues. His books are available on Amazon and for Kindle. Learn more about Valdez and contact him at or at

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