Mental Health in Isolation

Between COVID-19 and the horrific murder spree in Nova Scotia Canada this week, it is clear that we need to brush up on how to stay sane, to stay mentally healthy. In particular, how to divert ourseves from the isolation effect of abnormal repetative behaviour/obsessive compulsive disorder with ourselves and with our children.

A segment at the end of Chapter Two “Community Healing” in Light of Day: A results-based analysis on objectification and sexual violence (copyright 2020) by myself, Janet A. McDonald, guides us on our way:

Sound and words are not as important as body language. Our states of mind and intentions are more direct than the symbolic language of words. For example, trust can be taught to a horse with the use of direction, speed, and gestures to receive and pass on information. Body language is both learned and instinctual. Get the subject to switch from the reactive flight/fight reaction to a receptive response to you. The trust is earned and not forced upon the subject. Show you are not a predator. The horse is urged to run around the pen as if running away from a predator. The fear is thought through in a safe setting. After some time spent running away, the animal turns back in a prudent need to attempt negotiations before overtiring. If the new task of approaching the trainer is not accepted, then put the horse to work again around the pen for the horse to forget its skittish behaviour. 

The CBC television drama series Heartland demonstrates this horse-training technique to establish trust, a signature approach by the main character Amy Fleming. Discourage offences. Handlers, guardians, and managers can re-train potential offenders/re-offenders, targets/potential targets, and fellow managers in their respective consumer/workplace settings. Effective leaders create a situation where people choose to stay with that person rather than go away. The phenomenon of acceptance without reticence can be predictable, discernible, and practical. Monty Roberts wrote, “Predators do not ordinarily walk away from prey animals.” The request for cooperation initiates a working alliance. Perceived resistance and ambivalence are cues that the one being redirected needs time to think. Create an environment for learning. The classic Join-Up is a response-based meeting of the minds and uncontrived mutual respect. Roberts adds, “It is not possible to Join-Up when either participant feels pressure to accomplish it.” The head drops and bows. The lower head nod is asking the other to start the conversation (it is not a gesture of subservience) and to play the lead role. Clear communication with mutual respect and understanding ensues when not demanded or rushed. Create a pleasant work environment and build motivation. Watch for signs of being willing to cooperate. Willing partners perform much better. Segregation is destructive to cooperation and communication since corporate families are inclined to intimidate and pull rank on their workforce. A workplace can be a model of respect and consideration.

Build trust with colleagues. Create a bond and work in a closer and more efficient manner. Treat employees as more than robots. Handshake gestures, exchanges of pleasantries, and moving eye contact away from eyes can all ease tension. At the start of each shift, be welcoming and considerate. Identify and meet individual needs of the executives in their personal lives, empathize when appropriate, and meet the needs of employees and the company. Exchange a few words about employees’ plans for the day. Social workers can follow-up to assist spouses with schools, tutors, doctors, utility services, and so on. Shop mechanics may catch the consideration and shake hands with drivers. Everyone becomes willing to work harder to solve problems. Give positive rewards for positive actions.

After fleeing a threat, return and assess the situation. Conserve energy while determining “the nature of the predator.” Measuring the cost can be tipped over to the risk side: not wanting to be “prey,” but it feels good to be wanted, to be connected with others, a mutual partnership of caring and trust. “A relationship is apt to begin when there is eye-to-eye communication.” Use a meeting of the minds, the Join-Up. (Grooming targets is a perversion of this phenomenon. Part of grooming is to create a need and then to fill it.)

Moving eyes away slows down the other person’s reaction. Horses and autistics are visual thinkers. Horses sense the intentions of the rider. Redirect in a natural manner to abort emerging threats in the home. Pick up on the several things happening at one time in an office. Be good at team games, and at thinking in pictures to create designs. Negative actions result in extra tasks. Avoid emotional blackmail. “Give people, especially children, enough of the wrong responses and they can easily be made mean.”

Horses run more slowly when whipped, and it is no different with humans. “When adrenaline levels are up, learning is down, and when adrenaline levels are down, learning is up. The teacher or the parent who operates on the basis of fear, without trust, may create a young person who salutes and marches, but who falls short of reaching his or her full potential.” For creativity and innovation we need positive feedback. Prey species are afraid when they are out in the open and are exposed to potential predators. A bird hides when laying eggs, free from fear. A dog’s norm is to roam for many miles a day. Gerbils dig with the objective to hide inside a sheltered space. They need the emotion of feeling safe. Emotions drive actions. 

Abnormal repetitive behaviours (ARB) in animals are expressed as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) in humans and are usually seen in enrichment-deprived settings. Over time, the behaviour affects neurochemistry, forming abnormal brain function. Allow the subject control and the ability to modify the personal environment to enhance the probability of highly motivated normal behaviour. Abnormal behaviour is an indicator of inability to adjust. Normal response or the inability to normally respond to one’s environment affects brain function. It shows a correlation to the affected brain. Negative internal experiences, impaired function, the inability to predict or control stimuli, and denied natural behaviour cause stress. Isolation-rearing has shown that it induces abnormal behaviour, changed brain development and brain chemistry, and widespread changes in behaviour. The abnormal features exhibited in laboratory rats are equally exhibited in humans as a “prevalence” and “symptom severity.”

Vary the work load for freshness and health in mind, body and spirit. Give praise and recognition while granting students and employees the chance to choose their own consequences to inculcate a sense of responsibility. Bypass the parent and superior role as the administrator of discipline or punishment. Take the pressure off the student. Refrain from constant demands for the highest performance, even in training. Give rests.

Negative consequences would be an action to be completed as with scrubbing something or initiating a foundational review of what had been done in error. A tantrum by an adult or child is part of the training procedure. When training a child, reward a tiny amount of positive on-task behaviour with a hug, if you are parent or guardian. Let the child decide. Bullying, and other negative behaviours, need to be addressed and halted before positive consequences can be produced. Do not demean or shame. Early contractual failures are important to the learning process.

Move in predictable, quiet patterns with messages that prompt trust, cooperation, and understanding with a common aim. Repeat a learning exercise eight to ten times. Repetition is important for learning. Abused people work to build up trust. Take care never to break this fragile trust since when adrenalin levels are down learning is up.

Trust is the foundation of any relationship. The word trust (German trost) is Scandinavian in origin and faithful (treowe) from Old English are parallel terms intertwined in relationship and partnership. Trust and faithfulness complete each other’s mandate. Ask questions and listen. Use reliability with trust as the benchmark of your conduct. Trust one another in the home, at the workplace, socially, politically, and in the overall community. Earn the right to trust and be trusted. Roberts encourages using carrots and abandoning the stick, for the stick erodes trust and confidence. This does not mean eliminate the consequences of one’s actions. Remove the element of distrust within the corporate entity. Operating within a fair and honest way gives positive results.

Accept one another’s time frame regarding our learning curves. In re-educating, adapt and accommodate each person’s needs. Aggression is a learned defence mechanism, masked by the fear response. A memory related to the original offence will trigger the abused person. The target is likely to blame the experience on anything and anyone connected to the offender or the location. The burning question for the abused is, “Why didn’t someone intervene?” The truth is, individually, we have little influence, much less awareness. Together, we are all responsible for helping one another to become better than we are alone. That better way becomes a sound and prudent habit. We relax and trust when the pressure is off.


Leonard Miodinow, “How We Communicate Through Body Language: Nonverbal Communication” (Psychology Today, 29 May 2012),

Monty Roberts, Horse Sense for People: Using the Gentle Wisdom of the Join-Up Technique to Enrich Our Relationships at home and at work (Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2001) 9-11, 16-20, 29-31, 41-43, 51, 66, 83-86, 102, 128, 133.

Joseph P. Garner, “Stereotypies and Other Abnormal Repetative Behaviours: Impact on validity, reliability and replicability of Scientific outcomes” (IFAR Journal 46 2. Institute for Laboratory Animal Research, 01 January 2005) 106-117,

Fraser D. Duncan IJH, MC Appleby, BO Highes, eds., “Understanding animal welfare” (Wallingford, UK: Animal Welfare, 1997) xiii, 316.

GC Davison, JM Neale, Abnormal Psychology (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1998).

G. H. Jones, C. A. Marsden and T. W. Robbins, “Behavioral rigidity and rule-learning deficits following isolation-rearing in the rat–Neurochemical correlates” (Behavioral Brain Research 43 1991) 35-50.

M. H. Lewis, J. P. Gluck, A. J. Beauchamp and M. F. Keresztury, “Long-term effects of early social isolation in Maca mulatta: Changes in dopamine receptor function following apomorphine challenge” (Brain Research 513 1990) 67-73.

H. Würbel, “Ideal homes? Housing effects on rodent brain and behaviour,” (Trends Neuroscience 24 2001) 207-211.

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