With millions of people locked down around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has imposed a new level of loneliness on many.
Even as countries begin to ease the lockdowns, some people are reluctant to go out or are living in the hangover of the loneliness
In this piece, Dr. Lisa Firestone, an expert, shows how to fight the new loneliness epidemic
It’s a strange paradox that one of the most globally impactful events in our lifetime, rather than bring us together, could force us to be our most isolated. Yet, here we are, taking each day as it comes, doing our best to keep ourselves and one another safe.
Part of this effort should be taking care of our mental health, finding ways to ease our anxiety and cope with feeling lonely. Here are some powerful and effective ways to feel more resilient in the face of loneliness.
Give yourself time to feel your full sadness: First of all, this is an undoubtedly painful time. Some of us know or have lost someone who’s struggled with this disease. Many of us are fearful for ourselves and for our loved ones. And likely, all of us are missing the people we’re used to spending time with. While we may be telling ourselves to “keep calm and carry on” for fear of being overcome by emotion, we shouldn’t try to bury or avoid our sadness.
Sadness can be a vital, primary emotion. Allowing ourselves to feel it fully can be like letting a wave rise and fall within us. And like the sea itself, we tend to become calmer and more settled once we’ve allowed the wave to pass. Although, it can feel scary to invite an intense emotion to surface, it can also be a great relief, and it can help keep our emotions from spilling out in misplaced ways. As we navigate this strange time, we should give ourselves the space we need to feel sad when we need it. Sadness tends to center us in ourselves.
Get out of your head: The critical inner voice “voice” has a tendency to get louder when we’re alone and in our heads, criticizing and evaluating us in harsh ways. It also encourages us to think no one cares about us or wants to hear from us.
Getting to know this inner critic and noticing when it pops up can help us take control of how we feel. We must then challenge its destructive messaging and refuse to follow its terrible advice. In other words, we shouldn’t allow our “voices” to manipulate our behavior, whether they’re encouraging us to indulge in unhealthy habits or telling us to avoid reaching out to a friend.
Reach out: Simplistic as it sounds, we must remember to keep connecting. It’s way too easy to get into a routine of being alone and self-contained and to fall out of the routine of reaching out. Make appointments to meet virtually, so time doesn’t slip by. Reach out to old friends and maintain consistent contact with the people you saw regularly. Text and email, but try to make sure you also call, Zoom, or FaceTime. Seeing and hearing someone provides a completely different sensory experience that can change our outlook, lift our spirits, and ease our loneliness
Open up about how you’re feeling: When we do connect with loved ones, we should not hold back. Share what you’re going through, exposing any struggles you’re facing. Being open and personal is not a burden and will only bring you closer. It will also let your friend know that it’s okay to be vulnerable and encourage them to open up to you. Several people I work with have described feeling less lonely since the pandemic started, specifically because they’re taking more time for real and consistent contact with caring people in their lives.
Be generous: One of the most healing ways to get out of our own heads is to think of what we can offer others. Take time to check in on those around you. Ask friends, family, and coworkers how they’re doing and really listen to what they say. Make a conscious effort to offer them time and space to talk about themselves. In addition to reaching out, we can donate or find ways to safely volunteer. One friend of mine is sewing masks for healthcare workers. Another is offering low-cost therapy online. All of these selfless tasks have the personal benefit of providing a sense of meaning and connectedness.
Stay present: In the face of unprecedented levels of uncertainty, now is the time to embrace the mindfulness principle of not living in the past or catastrophizing about the future. The only moment we can truly experience is the one we’re in. Each day, we can try to connect to what we’re experiencing through meditation, breathing, or a simple practice of noticing any sensations, images, feelings, or thoughts we’re having. We may appreciate the warmth of our home, the sound of a loved one’s voice, the color of a nearby blossom, or the taste of our cup of tea. Staying in the moment can help us gain a sense of calm and add value to our experience.
Practice Self-Compassion: No matter what we’re going through, we should remember to be a friend to ourselves. Self-compassion comprises three elements: self-kindness, mindfulness, and common humanity. It involves treating ourselves without judgment, evaluation, or comparison and seeing our suffering as part of a common human experience. Keep in mind that we are all going through this together. We are all going to struggle, and we can give ourselves permission to treat ourselves kindly as we get through this together.