The current pandemic and the social restrictions that have been put in place have caused many people to lose a significant amount of social connection and experience isolation, leading to overwhelming loneliness. For many, this burdensome feeling of loneliness has been a primary source of distress. Generally speaking, people experience loneliness when there is an disconnect between your desire for human connection and your real (or perceived) experience of human connection. Everyone experiences loneliness differently, and we all have different thresholds for our need for human connection and interaction. We are social creatures and we have a natural desire and tendency to be together. Lack of social interaction and connection can have significant impacts on our mental health and well being. Unfortunately, we are experiencing a very unique situation right now where decreasing our human interactions is increasing our physical safety. It is important to be aware of how this may impact you, and what to do about it.
The following are practical tools that may decrease your experience of loneliness and improve your mood and overall sense of well being.
Be intentional: There are many things we cannot control right now, focus on what you can and be intentional about it. Be proactive. One of my favorite sayings is “fail to plan; plan to fail.” We need to take the reigns, and set ourselves up for success as best we can despite the current circumstances. If you have lost all of your natural social supports, you will have to work hard to adapt to the changes in order to stay connected, but it is possible!
Fill up your schedule: Continue to use a planner/calendar and continue to fill your schedule with activities and things to look forward to. Looking at your calendar and seeing nothing on it can contribute to intense feelings of loneliness. Write everything down, no matter how small. Write down phone calls, video chats, time you will spend on a hobby, time you plan to walk outside, time for an at-home workout. Putting everything that you plan to do on your calendar gives you a visual cue that you are not sitting around and doing nothing all day every day.
Connect in new ways: Even though you may not be able to see friends and family face to face, there are still many ways to connect. Phone calls, text messaging, video chats, playing online games together, and maybe even meeting up and keeping a safe distance. It can be very easy to lose connections with people when social activities have been cancelled. Do what you can to keep these connections. (Personal note: I have become a huge fan of the app Marco Polo during the pandemic!).
Get outside/exercise: Moving your body and getting outside are both crucial for your overall health and your mood. If you find yourself stuck inside the four walls of your home for days on end, that is absolutely going to impact your mental health. Even seeing other humans in the neighborhood during a walk outside can help decrease a sense of loneliness and isolation.
Get creative: this can look like reading, writing, playing games, working on a hobby, etc. It can be great for your mental health to have a creative outlet of some sort. You can even find ways to do this with others, for example, reading the same book as a friend and talking about it, or playing games through apps. Many of us have extra time on our hands now, is there a way you can make use of this time? Once this is all over and you are able to look back on this time, are there things that you might wish you would have done?
Distraction: Distraction can help with loneliness during times that are especially difficult, like night time or bad weather days. This is where is can be helpful to watch a show you love, or a movie, listen to a podcast, call a friend, anything that is going to take your attention off of your loneliness temporarily to help you make it through. Ideally these would be things that will capture your full attention for a period of time. Also, while you are looking for something to hold your focus, make sure you are exposing your brain to happy things! Some people benefit from intentionally watching funny videos online to help give their mood a quick boost (rather than something like the news which may further the doom and gloom feeling).
Plan things for the future: Having things to look forward to can play a key role in happiness and life satisfaction. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic there is great uncertainty about the future and it leaves us with not much to look forward to. Because of this, we have to get creative and adjust to plan things that we absolutely can control. Additionally, we can still plan vacations, celebrations, and get togethers without a date, and plan the dates at a later time. That way, you still benefit from the joy of planning a dreaming about a nice vacation (or other fun gathering), and it will be ready to book just as soon as it is safe.
See a therapist: Now is a great time to connect with a therapist. Many people in a variety of life circumstances are struggling with the current circumstances due to the pandemic. Especially if you are struggling with loneliness, an additional human to talk to each week can be very helpful. Don’t let your loneliness linger, reach out, we are ready to talk with you!