• Written by Tess Sanders Lazarus

With self-isolation and social distancing in full-swing, anxiety expert Pauline McKinnon believes many people will miss isolation and social distancing and will probably feel a deep sense of loss when things return to some sense of normalcy.

Pauline McKinnon has been a leader in the field of mental health, anxiety treatment and management and therapeutic meditation for over 30 years. She is a celebrated author, psychotherapist and the founder of the Stillness Meditation Centre in Melbourne.

“There is a certain humanity in self-isolation. In fact, there is something natural and pure about it. To say I am thankful for the coronavirus pandemic wouldn’t be right. No ‘upside’ could justify the devastation this pandemic has wrought. But I think, if anything, the pandemic has taught us a few things,” McKinnon said.

“It’s updated our leaders and our policymakers on how to deal with global pandemics. The Australian people have also had to learn a few things about solitude and appreciation of the here-and-now.”  

According to McKinnon, solitude, quiet and social distancing can be incredibly beneficial to our mental health. For many, it is a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of day-to-day Australian life.

“Australians should enjoy the calm whilst they have it. The idea of ‘quiet’ has gone out of fashion in the last few decades, but ‘quiet’ has kept human beings healthy for thousands of years. Only now do we expect to be pre-occupied every hour of every day. I think it’s time that we break that habit,” McKinnon said.

“It’s through quiet that we replenish our thoughts and reset our mind. When we’re alone with just our thoughts, that’s when we’re most creative. Only when we fully stop whatever we’re doing can we truly observe the world around us and we appreciate what we have.

“If you’re bored, you’re just not trying hard enough. With all that’s going on, there is no excuse to be bored in the 21st century. You shouldn’t even need Netflix, your iPad or video games to keep you entertained. If you’re able to stay entertained with just your own thoughts, you’ve gained the most important skill you can gain.”

Not everyone has the good luck of being able to stay at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nurses, doctors and essential services workers are working around the clock and don’t have a free day. Some people can’t afford to stay home.

“If you’re one of the lucky ones who is able to work from home, or at least be at home, during the COVID-19 pandemic, recognise just how fortunate you are. There are a lot of Australians doing it tough who would beg for your situation right now, so don’t complain. You have a great opportunity to appreciate your surroundings and work on self-reflection,” McKinnon said.

McKinnon thinks that to get through social distancing, Australians should focus on what they’re going to miss at the end of it. She’s predicting that after the pandemic, many Australians will begin to long for self-isolation.

“When COVID-19 dies down, you’ll see a wave of Australians professing their appreciation for the self-isolation period. We will have gotten used to the ‘new normal’ and the ‘old normal’ won’t seem so normal anymore,” McKinnon said.

“I’m recommending to my friends that they write a list of ten things they are going to miss at the end of this self-isolation period. Are you spending more time with your kids? Reading books you’ve been meaning to read for years? Going on long walks with your partner? Learning how to meditate. It can be something as simple as the lack of traffic on the roads!

“Think about what you’re going to miss about self-isolation because I promise you, a lot of Australians will definitely end up missing it.”

McKinnon believes that an interesting paradox is taking place: that Australians are spending more time communicating with their family than before.

“When you’re in self-isolation, the only people you can chat to are the people who you are closest to. So that’s the people you live with, your family and your friends. I think a lot of us are calling long-lost friends and family members that we haven’t seen in years because heck, why not?” McKinnon said.

“A lot of us are talking to our friends and family more in quarantine than outside of it. We’ve learnt how to use Zoom and we’re doing weekly scheduled catch-ups with our loved ones. It’s funny how being trapped in our homes, of all things, has made us talk to our families more, not less!”

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