Surviving isolation: It’s OK to ask for help

RAWLINS — Not everyone is suited to rural life — or social distancing — but there are some lessons from rural life that might be applicable during the novel coronavirus outbreak. 

First and foremost, know that it’s OK to be struggling. It’s also OK to ask for help, state officials say. 

“We know this outbreak is likely stressful for people for many different reasons,” said Dr. Alexia Harrist, state health officer and state epidemiologist with Wyoming Department of Health. “The fears and worry we may experience can be at times overwhelming.” 

An individual’s responses to stress caused by the outbreak is affected by that person’s background. It is our backgrounds that make us different from one another, and a collective community background that makes no two locations the same, said Matt Petry, Behavioral Health Division senior administrator with WDH. 

“Wyoming’s community mental health providers are a good resource for help and their services are available regardless of ability to pay,” Petry said. “Many local mental health providers are helping clients using telehealth methods during this time. Contact your local provider to learn more about their currently available services.” 

Amber Smith with the Western Landowners Alliance Women in Ranching program said that isolation has been a topic at WLA gatherings for several years now. 

“In our Women in Ranching program, we have women from California, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and many of these women live anywhere from 20 miles to 100 miles from a town of any size,” Smith said. “Part of the nature of what is discussed is that isolation can be really hard, but when you have a community of people that you know and you trust that you can reach out to — that makes all the difference.” 

Over and over again, people in her group express gratitude to live in wide open spaces with unfettered access to fresh air, and to be afforded the chance to watch seasonal changes. Many of these same people feel deep empathy for those going through this global pandemic in an urban area. 

But no one wants to be isolated, and there is often strength in vulnerability. 

“It is OK to ask for help,” Smith said. “A lot of these gals, coming to a Women in Ranching is their one opportunity to get off the ranch, to get away from the kids and their business obligations and all the daily work their lives entails, and get to spend time with other women who are doing the same work.” 

Smith said she herself learned a few practical lessons about surviving isolation when she first moved to rural Montana with her husband. 

“What got me through the toughest times were a few simple things,” Smith said. 

When stuck at home with no hope of seeing anyone else and no plans on the horizon, having a routine and a purpose for each day is crucial. 

“Have a purpose each day, and be realistic,” Smith said. “If you’re home with four little kids, maybe dumping out and organizing one big kitchen drawer, that might be the most involved project you can do.” 

Another strategy for surviving long hours alone is to focus on something you find fully engaging, even for 10 or 15 minutes, she said. 

“Do something where your mind is fully engaged in that thing, and not on your worries or what you are concerned about,” Smith said. “For me, that is reading a good book if I’m inside. If I’m outside, it is doing anything with a horse.” 

The point is to give your brain that space to think, “I’m fine, I am going to make it.” 

Finally, she advised, choose gratitude if it is at all possible. Write or tell someone in your life what you’re grateful for, and do that every day. 

Smith said that so often, people place self-limiting beliefs on themselves or their situations. 

“The thing we do talk about quite a bit is how in ranching, people can get into a scarcity mentality, ‘Is there enough?,’ you know? There is drought, there are low market prices, you are out here working with family — which is not always easy—but when you go at everything with that scarcity mindset, it actually imposes a lot of limits on your potential,” Smith said. “We try to focus on, there is enough time. There are enough resources. There is enough knowledge. We ask, how can you bring yourself to that?” Smith said. “And emphasize that you are enough.”