How to deal with loneliness as COVID-19 distances us all

How to deal with loneliness as COVID-19 distances us all

If your days look anything like mine at the moment, you’re probably having a lot of conversations around COVID-19:

How bad is this really going to get?

How many groceries should I buy?

And why in god’s name is everyone buying up boatloads of toilet paper?

But there’s another question I’ve started thinking about, too:

What are the psychological implications of this moment?

How will the coronavirus affect each of our lives before it’s all said and done?   

It’s been hard not to think about this question with my sister, who lives in Spain, sending me pictures like these:

With all of Spain sheltering in place since Monday, the streets look a whole lot like a modern ghost town.

I can’t help but think about the collective loneliness that Spain and other countries currently on lockdown must be feeling in this moment.    

It remains to be seen if we, too, will face a nation-wide lockdown in the days ahead. But as we all engage in practices of social distancing and self-isolation, I suspect many of us are already experiencing our own feelings of loneliness and alienation.    

How to deal with loneliness in the days ahead

Practicing social distancing and self-isolation doesn’t mean we have to neglect our need for connection over the coming weeks and months. It just means we’ll need to be creative, finding both new and so-called “old” ways of connecting with others.

While I don’t have an extensive list of activities to share with you, here are some ideas that just might help you feel less alone in the days and weeks ahead.

Be mindful of your social needs

We are social beings, each and every one of us, which means keeping our distance and isolating from others has the potential to take an emotional toll on all of us.

Rather than ignoring the emotional impact, though, try to be mindful of all the different emotions you experience over the coming weeks, especially feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Our feelings help to alert us to unmet emotional needs and motivate us to take action. Though ignoring your feelings of loneliness may feel helpful in the moment, doing so can intensify those feelings and make them even harder to manage over time.   

Here’s a great guided meditation for loneliness to help you get started.

Lean into relationships with those you live with

Not all of us live with others, but if you have roommates, live with a significant other or have kids, make the most of your time together.

Consider cooking a meal together (after thoroughly washing your hands, of course), playing a board game, listening to some good music, or doing a puzzle together.    

As we’re forced to live in relative (for the moment) isolation from friends and extended family, be intentional about not isolating yourself (assuming there isn’t a medical reason for doing so) from the people living under the same roof as you.  

Live on your own? Check out my piece on how to deal with loneliness when you’re single.

Call someone you haven’t talked to in a while

We all have someone we’ve “been meaning to get in touch with.” Maybe it’s a friend from high school or college. Perhaps it’s a distant relative or even a not-so-distant relative.

Make a list of the people you’ve lost touch with and give them a call. Reaching out and catching up with the important people in our lives can go a long way when it comes to meeting that basic need each of us has for human connection.       

Get outside with others

Fortunately, the coronavirus doesn’t prevent us from going outdoors and spending time with others, provided we keep a safe distance. In fact, going for a walk or run in your neighborhood is a much safer option than going to the gym right now, assuming your gym is even open.  

Why not ask a friend or neighbor to join you for a walk or run? Sure, walking six feet away from each other may feel a little strange at first, but it’s still great way to get your social fix.  

Again, this is no exhaustive list. And even some of the social activities I’ve shared here may be unavailable to us in the coming days.

Of course, the most important thing is to be safe as we all navigate this moment together.

But don’t overlook your mental wellness, either.

Check in with yourself in the days ahead.

Be aware of what you’re feeling.

Take note of what you need relative to love and belonging.

(Incidentally, that’s tier 3 on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for all you psychology buffs).

Then, get creative. Look for ways to feel closer and more connected with others.

It really will make a difference.  

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