Sometimes in social situations, we can feel lonely even among other people. Now that we’re socially isolating, it’s even more true. I’m sure you’ve experienced this in the grocery store lately, keeping distance and doing the social distancing dance of at least 6 feet. People are afraid to speak to each other, let alone get close. This can worsen our level of satisfaction in our community social context. It increases stress, makes us avoid each other, and rush to get home and out of the risk of illness. In other words, loneliness isn’t good for us. That said, loneliness doesn’t always immediately affect us. One way to think about it is like a leech.
Much like leeches, the sense of loneliness we feel drains us of energy – often leading to symptoms of depression or anxiety. We might feel angry, regretful, or even disappointed, because now we have to deal with that leech. Similarly, we may feel like we have failed ourselves or others since we don’t always have the energy to do that themed video call with family or game night with friends… or we aren’t that productive person who feels amazing during this time at home.
Now, we eventually have to remove the leech and treat the wound. When we feel lonely, we have to do something about it. Yet removing it and treating the wound it left behind are both vital to our health. Sometimes, all we need to feel less lonely is to go outside, see other people in the world, and feel among them no matter how far away. Other times, we might need some therapy or a big increase in our social efforts.
Loneliness (a result of social isolation) can create all kinds of problems for us. It can lead to anxiety, depression, withdrawal, a decrease in productivity, and even an increase in mortality rate. It drains us of energy, inspires fear, and makes us more anxious to return to society. Yet loneliness and social isolation do not have a guaranteed connection. There’s lots we can do to combat loneliness even though we’re socially isolating.
· The internet is your friend*
Internet use has been shown to decrease how lonely people feel – at least most of the time. When we use the internet to connect with others, research supports that we’ll feel more satisfied with our level of social support. Just be sure to be mindful of how you’re using the internet – is it helping you feel better, or worse?* If you’re feeling stressed by reading the news (or any other internet source), consider limiting how long you spend on those websites. Try to find something new and interesting to watch or do; check out our other COVID-19 articles to find innovative ways to connect with your loved ones and meet new people. Use it to connect with others, learn new or interesting things, and practice brief mental breaks from being alone.
· Get creative – do things together, apart.
If you’re feeling lonely, a call to talk is not our only way out of a solitary experience. We have a lot of assumed rules and expectations in how we socialize and go about our habits, but they aren’t always necessary! Try eating a meal with family virtually – each of you on a screen, doing your thing, but together (apart). Feel alone watching your favorite show you usually watch with friends? There’s lots of apps to watch videos together virtually, have chat, and even have video conferencing at the same time. Does your child miss their friends who live across the street? Have a distance playdate where they draw each other chalk pictures on their own driveways. Even if your method is unconventional, it can help boost your mood and feel less alone.
· Avoid the sound of silence.
Silence is good… till it’s not. During this global pandemic, silence is all too readily available. If you notice the alone-ness creeping in, try listening to music or background noise. Try a sound generator or a tv show. Listen to podcasts, videos, or the radio. Regardless, listening to sounds can help fill the space of nothing. There are so many options of audio media out there, you can choose something to fit the mood you’re in, the mood you want, or even to acknowledge your low mood for a moment. Sound is integral to the human species, so take advantage of its benefits.
· Reframe, accept, and acknowledge.
Sometimes by avoiding our feelings, we make ourselves feel worse. It can be helpful to embrace our experiences and acknowledge that things are strange right now – that you might feel low. If you consider what you’re feeling and think about where your thoughts are drifting, or what your attention is focusing upon, you can start to come up with solutions3. By accepting your reality for what it is, you can then find new ways to engage in contact with others or give your body what it needs to feel just a bit better. Consider – when did you last have a drink of water? Are you hungry? When did you last talk to another person, or leave your home? When we are experiencing high levels of stress or negative emotions, we can get caught up and forget some of the most basic self-care that could help protect against feeling worse. Reframe your experience for yourself and see if you can’t find new ways to look at a situation – sick of cooking at home? Look at the potential money you’ve saved by reducing how often you eat restaurant food. When feeling lonely, remember that you’re doing the right thing by keeping your distance so we can all return to a new sense of normal sooner.
Ultimately, managing our loneliness takes much less fuss than it may seem at first – no promises if the same is true for leeches. By tending to our personal needs, our relationships with others, and reaching out, we can feel better and more able to take on life’s challenges. The good news is that there are plenty of options to help us feel connected and find help. One of those options – if you feel like you need a boost of support – is our mental health resources page. It’s dangerous to go alone, and whatever options you use to connect with people, you’ll be off to a good start!