In the 2000 film Cast Away, the character Chuck, played by Tom Hanks, rushed to board a FedEx plane on Christmas Eve for a business trip. He kissed his love, Kelly, after exchanging gifts and headed to work, saying, “I’ll be right back.” His plane crashes somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, leaving him stranded and fighting for survival alone on a small island. First world comforts and busy schedules are pushed aside as necessities like food, water, and shelter become his main focus. Particular objects reminding him of his former life become instruments kept to desperately hold onto his sanity. Among them is a pocket watch with a picture of his girlfriend, Kelly, and a volleyball Chuck named “Wilson.”
This year, an extremely dangerous and contagious virus spread quickly worldwide, creating a global pandemic upending the economy of nearly every country. Much like in Cast Away, many in this country and others have been placed in a fight for survival. Basic needs have been pushed to the forefront as jobs have been lost or put on hold, and food or toiletries became more difficult to purchase at the grocery store. In an effort to contain or stop the virus, countries struggled with lockdowns and business closings. Hospitals and long-term care facilities adopted policies to keep their patients and residents safe such as visitor restrictions. Due to the effects the virus has on the elderly or medically at-risk persons, isolation quickly became the reality of so many of our most vulnerable. The very thing that, as humans, we desire and need has become dangerous – close physical contact and human interaction.
According to a study at Brigham Young University, a lack of social connection heightens health risks as much as smoking or having an alcohol use disorder. Loneliness and social isolation can be twice as harmful to physical and mental health as obesity (Perspectives on Psychological Science, Vol. 10, No. 2, 2015).
I have seen many friends and family members struggle with isolation and accompanying loneliness. My heart goes out to our family friend, who is hospitalized with severe and life-threatening conditions. She has been suffering her treatments alone in her hospital room without the presence of her husband or small children for months as their physical contact could prove to be too dangerous for her. I often think about and worry over patients who have closed themselves in their homes over the last few months, fearful of catching the virus.
Just as Chuck realized that he needed to get off that island to survive, those who are suffering in isolation need to escape their island. There are many safe ways to do this. The following are some common coping strategies that many healthcare workers and patients use across the country:
- Physical activity/exercise
- Religious or spiritual practices
- Virtual support groups
In Utah, we are fortunate to have many different outdoor activities available. I encourage you to explore the many miles of walking and hiking trails, ride a bike with your spouse or partner, or spend time at the lake fishing. Getting out of the house, exercising, and breathing some fresh air is vital to so many aspects of human health, and it can be done safely without risk of contracting COVID if current guidelines are followed. Recently our neighborhood held an event where our children drew some sidewalk chalk artwork. We then walked around and visited with one another, keeping an appropriate distance, and saw what others drew on their sidewalk. I thought this was an excellent idea to maintain current safety guidelines for disease prevention but still get some social interaction with neighbors that may have been hiding out fighting loneliness and isolation.
If you think you need to speak to a counselor or provider to help you through this time, please schedule an appointment. The important thing is to get out, build your raft, get off your island, and not lose hope.
“I know what I have to do now. I got to keep breathing because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?” Chuck Noland (Cast Away)
By Steven Weatherspoon, DO
Canyon View Medical Group