Coping with loneliness during COVID-19
For many, feelings of loneliness can be harder to deal with during the festive season, a situation compounded by COVID-19 restrictions. We look at some simple solutions that can help us to cope during periods of isolation.
What is loneliness?
As the mental health charity Mind explain, ‘loneliness is the feeling we get when our need for rewarding social contact and relationships is not met’. Everyone’s experience is different and there is a difference between being alone and feeling lonely. You might happily choose to live alone but others might find that to be a lonely experience; for some, feeling lonely can impact upon their mental health, whilst for others, certain mental health conditions can prove isolating and be the cause of loneliness.
Loneliness and lockdown
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a range of impacts upon us all, from the economic to the practical and emotional. For many, however, the isolation and lack of human contact have provided the greatest challenge.
With lockdowns, social distancing and remote working, our contact with colleagues, friends and family has been severely restricted, often leaving us feeling cut off from others when we need them most.
A time for family and friends
At any time of year loneliness can be hard to cope with, but the effects may be more profoundly felt during the winter holiday. The festive season would normally be a time for gathering with friends and loved ones, for meals with family, for office parties and celebrations to welcome in the new year. Yet, as the world struggles to deal with a second wave of COVID-19 infections, many of us will be forced to spend the time alone.
For contented introverts this may be an opportunity for calm reflection, but for others, the loneliness could turn a relaxing holiday into a stressful experience.
Ways to cope
There are some simple steps we can take to help us cope whenever these periods of enforced isolation and loneliness occur. Not all of these will work for everyone, and some may be more achievable than others, but it’s worth trying to find solutions that help you.
Be more virtually social
The NHS suggests a range of ways to help with the effects of loneliness, including a suggestion to create a regular routine of checking in with others. This could include contacting friends, family and colleagues on social media, by email, telephone or text message. You could arrange a set time each day to have a phone or video call with someone you can chat with. This routine will add some structure to your day and provide a positive focus during difficult moments.
You could also set up a WhatsApp or Messenger group chat. Chances are you won’t be the only one amongst your friends of family who is feeling lonely and in need of contact with others. By reaching out for help you may also be helping others in a similar situation.
Create and distract
Other simple coping methods include focusing your mind on something else more positive than the feelings of loneliness, such as a creative project. This might be an activity such as painting or drawing, writing poetry or short stories, using adult colouring books, decorating your home, cooking or baking. You don’t need to be technically proficient; the aim is to gain a therapeutic benefit from creative expression and to direct your mind away from thoughts of isolation.
Exercise and accept
The positive effects of exercise on mental fitness are well known and Bupa suggest, amongst other helpful tips, that undertaking a form of daily exercise can mitigate the negative effects of isolation. Exercising outdoors, if you can, will be particularly beneficial, providing a change of scene, fresh air and daylight.
Bupa also recommend an approach known as practicing acceptance. This involves mentally letting go of aspects that are outside of your control, helping to free up energy and space in your mind that can instead be devoted to more beneficial activities.
Seek help if you’re struggling
It’s always particularly important to remember that if you’re really struggling then simple solutions such as those outlined above may not be sufficient to help you cope. In these circumstances, don’t hesitate to reach out and seek additional professional medical support or advice.