Social distancing is tough on all of us, but people who live alone may be struggling even more right now.
Tami Keehn, a photographer who lives by herself in Saint Petersburg, Florida, said she’s experiencing loneliness and jealousy toward people who have a partner, friends or family to hunker down with during quarantine. At times, she feels “invisible.”
“I am by nature an introvert and a bit of a hermit, so the overall lifestyle shift wasn’t that far off from my normal daily routine,” Keehn told HuffPost. “But now that I’m unable to get in those small doses of in-person interactions and hanging out with friends and family, or getting to enjoy the warmth of a big hug as I greet my clients, I’m realizing how very important human touch and in-person interaction were for me to feel connected and like I belonged to a ‘tribe’ of some sort.”
To cope, she’s been taking walks near the ocean for a dose of sunshine and exercise and does virtual video happy hour dates with friends. These things help, but it’s still been tough. If you know someone who’s living alone, remember to check in on them, Keehn said.
“You might be envious that they aren’t having to deal with a lack of personal space and quiet time, but many of us are equally as jealous that you have someone to hug or a shoulder to cry on during this trying time,” Keehn said. “We need to be there to support each other. So taking a moment to send a little love our way can make all the difference.”
Being physically isolated from our loved ones for an extended period of time is something most of us have never experienced before. Though uncomfortable, the distress you may be feeling is a normal response to the situation. It doesn’t mean that there’s anything “wrong” with you.
“Just like hunger signals us to eat and thirst signals us to drink water, loneliness is thought to be a biological drive that motivates us to reconnect,” said Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.
We asked experts to share their advice for how to feel more connected during this period of social distancing.
Advice For When You’re Feeling Lonely
1. First, label what you’re feeling.
Like, “I feel scared and alone right now” or “I’m feeling disconnected from my friends and family.” Putting words to these difficult emotions can lighten their weight.
“Know that this is a hard time right now and that you are not alone,” said psychologist Rebecca Leslie of Living Fully Psychological Services in Atlanta. “Many others are feeling the way that you are. A sense of common humanity can help make negative feelings more bearable as well.”
Validate the emotions that make sense given the circumstances, while also gently questioning judgmental, self-defeating or shame-driven thought patterns that arise. For example: “Shame is telling me the reason I’m lonely is because I’m unlovable, but I know the reason I’m alone is because people aren’t allowed to physically interact right now,” said New York City-based therapist and executive coach Megan Bruneau.
2. Remember why you’re staying home right now.
The social distancing measures that are causing you so much angst aren’t for naught. By following protocols, you’re doing your part to help slow the spread of the disease in your community.
“When we face any stressor, research demonstrates that how we appraise a situation can influence our physiological response,” Holt-Lunstad. “Shift your mindset: Instead of interpreting the situation as being cut off from others, focus on doing this to protect those you love.”
3. Create a routine and try to stick to it.
You’ll be better equipped to manage your emotions if you do.
“Keeping a schedule helps us have structure and some predictability during times of uncertainty,” said Anabel Basulto, a marriage and family therapist in Orange County, California. ”Waking and going to bed is important. Having good sleep hygiene helps battle stress.”
4. Move your body.
“The feeling of being captive makes us feel like there are limited options, so we choose many times to do nothing,” Basulto said.
Talk a walk around your neighborhood, blast music and dance in your living room, livestream a yoga class or spring-clean your apartment. Anything that gets you moving should boost your mood.
5. Do something creative.
Write in a journal, paint, take some picture, play guitar or come up with a new recipe. Research has shown that engaging in creative pursuits can help alleviate feelings of loneliness, Holt-Lunstad said.
6. Schedule regular video or phone check-ins with loved ones.
Think of social distancing as more of a physical distancing. You can’t get together in person, but you can still socialize virtually via FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, Houseparty or even in a good, old-fashioned phone call. Make a list of people to reach out to, both in your inner and outer circle, even if you haven’t talked to them in months or years, Bruneau said.
Set aside time on the calendar so that you commit to making these check-ins a priority. Then make it a weekly thing.
“Having a recurring, planned social connection can be incredibly helpful,” Leslie said. “It helps you feel more of a sense of control and predictability.”
Aim for at least one of these interactions per day, whether it’s with a co-worker, partner, pal or family member. Video is ideal so you can see each other’s faces but if you can only do a phone call, that works too.
“Because some of us think we need to have ‘news’ to share on calls or be entertaining, we don’t reach out,” Bruneau said. “If you don’t feel up to talking or listening, see if a friend wants to watch Netflix together or do a workout with you.”
And remember: These interactions will benefit you as much as they’ll benefit the people you’re catching up with.
“We’re all vulnerable to mental health challenges right now,” Bruneau said. “Hearing from you could be a massive pick-me-up in someone’s day.”
7. Set small goals.
Have you been meaning to read that book on your nightstand, start meditating in the mornings or organize those boxes of old family photos? Come up with a few specific goals you want to accomplish that feel meaningful to you right now, Leslie said.
“When we engage in activities that align with our values and spark purpose and meaning, it tends to improve our mood,” she said. “Also setting goals and accomplishing them can lift your mood.”
8. Eat nourishing foods and drink plenty of water.
If you’ve spent the quarantine stress-eating processed junk foods and drinking wine, you’re not the only one. These things can be comforting in the moment and act as a way to temporarily dull the ache of loneliness. But eating more nutrient-rich foods and limiting your alcohol intake will help you feel better both mentally and physically, while also improving your immune function.
To manage painful emotions, “instead try journaling to help you gain insight into how you are feeling, read a book or watch a movie,” Basulto said.
9. Talk to a therapist.
Mental health professionals have, by and large, taken their practices online. So you can meet for a virtual session without having to leave your home. For more affordable options, consider online therapy services like TalkSpace or Better Help.
“Many therapists have free initial consultations where you can just chat for a little to determine if therapy would be helpful,” Leslie said.
10. Remember that this situation is temporary.
Keep in mind there’s an end in sight, even if we don’t yet know precisely when that will be.
“Sure, it might serve you to make some of the changes mentioned to optimize for connection for now, but remember you don’t have to feel totally fulfilled connection-wise over the next couple of months,” Bruneau said. “Take pressure off of yourself to ‘fix’ everything and do the best you can to use this as an opportunity to gain self-awareness, self-compassion and skills like reaching out and asking for help.”
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