EDIT: This post was originally created before the COVID-19 Pandemic. I have since updated this post with social activities that can be done at a distance. Many of these tips can still be implemented while practicing social distancing. Remaining safely connected while social distancing is important for our overall emotional and physical well-being. We can still engage with one another from a distance.
Living with autoimmunity feels isolating. Often, people cannot understand your symptoms or how you’re feeling unless they’ve experienced it themselves. This is especially true if your disease is invisible. Unpredictable symptoms and energy make it hard to schedule plans and. even if you do, you might need to cancel at the last minute due to a bad flare-up. Now, if you choose to make the transition to the Autoimmune Protocol to help improve your symptoms, those around may suddenly not know how to spend time with you anymore because you can’t go grab a pizza like you could before…
Babe, I really get it. I lost A LOT of friends after being diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis and even as an adult I’m still learning how to navigate socialization with an autoimmune disease.
Now, when you throw in a global pandemic to all of this, the social isolation reaches a breaking point. Under normal circumstances, people everywhere are feeling isolated and suffering from the VERY necessary, but challenging social distancing recommendations. When you already experience a baseline level of isolation due to a disease, the world can feel like “too much” right now. You probably feel lonely, sad, isolation, hopeless… and that is okay.
Humans are not designed to live in isolation, we need to commune with other people to live happy and fulfilling lives. Connecting with other human beings is important for our overall health & wellbeing. So how do we continue to do this safely while also protecting and looking out for each other’s health? Many of the principles for building a robust social life while following the Autoimmune Protocol remain the same, just with a few modifications.
Build Your Community
We talk a lot about community here in the AIP world, but what does that really mean? Community can be defined as “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.” In other words… find your people! This is often a first step I recommend to folks wanting to transition to the Autoimmune Protocol because it is so much more than a diet, it’s a big lifestyle change and you are going to need support while you navigate the transition.
- Identify who can be a support to you in your current network of people. Who will be your cheerleaders as you throw away or donate those cans of tomatoes? Who will offer to pick up your grocery order for you & leave it on your front porch when you’re too weak to do it yourself? Who can you call to go on a socially-distanced walk? Is there someone you can call when you just need to vent? Find these people, because they will be your foundation moving forward.
- Recognize that one-person cannot be the source of total support. This is a big one. Don’t rely on one person to be your sole source of support emotionally, spiritually, mentally, or physically. It’s too big of a job for one person, so decide on the different people who can fill these different areas of support. Maybe your spouse can be the one who can listen to and comfort you on a bad day, but isn’t the one going grocery shopping or following this new lifestyle with you. So, find someone who can fill those roles instead! Finding community based support groups or faith-based bible studies can be another fantastic way to grow your support network and community. Autoimmune Wellness has a great link to find local AIP communities in your area!
Find Non-Food Activities
In so many cultures around the world socialization revolves around food, but what happens if you can’t dine out at many restaurants or can’t eat any of the food at the cookout? This can leave many of us feeling isolated or deprived. So, it’s important to find social activities that do not revolve around food. For many of us, this has been taken out of the equation right now since eating out at restaurants or going to cook-outs isn’t an option. So, this is actually a great time to explore other non-food related activities! It may require some creative thinking and a little confidence to advocate for yourself and suggest new activities to old friends, but you can do it! Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Join or start a virtual book club
- Spend time outdoors going on hikes/ kayaking/ or canoeing
- If you have a dog, take them on walks together or go to a local dog park
- Have a virtual game night playing you favorite board games
- Have a virtual tea or smoothie date or meet up outside wearing masks
- Join a virtual bible study or club with other people who share common interests
NOTE: I strongly encourage everyone to wear masks when doing any kind of in-person socializing right now, regardless of how many feet you are apart or if you are inside or outside.
I think this is one of the most important but challenging tips. The more comfortable and confident you feel in your choices, the more comfortable and confident you will feel in difficult and tempting social events.
- Focus on what you CAN have, not what you can’t. Reframe your lifestyle choices in way that fills you with joy and satisfaction, rather than deprivation and longing. Eating chicken liver for breakfast? That’s awesome! You know why? Because you are feeding your body well so you can enjoy going on that socially-distanced hike on Saturday!
- Be the initiator. If you miss some of the connection opportunities you enjoyed pre-COVID or pre-autoimmunity, create your own. Be the one to reach out to friends and family to plan a virtual hangout night or Netflix watch party. Allow yourself the opportunity to be the epicenter for the social activity and plan it around your needs!
- Practice makes perfect. This is important if you are in the early stages of the Autoimmune Protocol transition. It’s hard to feel confident when you are still learning the ropes, so just do the best you can. Don’t be afraid of putting yourself out there, because the more you practice the more confident and comfortable you will feel!