Are you unsure how to cope with loneliness during the coronavirus pandemic? You could be self-isolating because you've caught the infection, but there are many other reasons why you've elected to stay indoors.
Whether you are quarantined due to suspected exposure, staying home because you are in a high-risk category, or at home to help prevent the spread of infection, you may find yourself unprepared for the feelings of loneliness that will likely follow.
While those with chronic illness may already be familiar with what it's like to face long periods of time alone at home, most of us are used to getting out daily; even those who are retired or don't work usually make trips to run errands or visit friends. To have all of that stop suddenly is jarring, to say the least.
Loneliness and Social Isolation A 2017 systematic review of 40 studies from 1950 to 2016 published in the journal Public Health found a significant association between social isolation and loneliness and poorer mental health outcomes as well as all-cause mortality.1
For this reason, it's important to take care of your mental health during times of decreased social interactions.
It's normal to feel stress when faced with staying indoors and interacting less with people, especially when that is added to the underlying stress of worrying whether you will catch the virus. These factors could increase your chances of developing a mental health issue, like anxiety or depression.
While social distancing refers to avoiding large gatherings of people, staying a certain distance from others in public, and only going out of the house for essentials, it can still start to feel a lot like "cabin fever." You might also feel stigmatized if you are isolated because you've contracted the virus or you suspect you may have contracted the virus.
What's the best way to get through this period of isolation? There are many strategies that you can employ to ensure your well-being and good mental health. Most of these involve either finding ways to distract yourself (keep busy) or finding ways to connect with others (despite the circumstances).
Distraction works to help you avoid ruminating about everything that is wrong, which is a risk factor for becoming depressed. In this way, taking on little projects or finding other forms of distraction can help to keep your mood level.
In contrast, staying social in non-traditional ways can help you to feel less isolated and combat loneliness.
If you are unable to go places or interact socially with many people at this time, you might be wondering what you can do. Below are some ideas on how to manage your feelings of loneliness during these times.
Keep to a Schedule Even if you are isolated at home, try to keep to a regular schedule as much as possible. While loneliness can feel like it will never end, trying to make these days feel as "normal" as possible will help you to get through.
Start each day with a plan of a few things that you will do, keep a daily diary about how you are feeling and what you are doing, and keep a symptom log if you are managing illness. All of these tracking systems will help you to feel like you are being proactive about the situation.
Stay Informed In a 2020 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, an online survey of 1210 respondents from 194 cities in China showed that people who had up to date health information and advice on precautionary measures had better psychological functioning and resilience.2
While you do not want to feed your anxiety and fear through constant updates about the state of the virus, keeping up to date on the latest advice and health information may give you an edge when it comes to protecting your mental health (and as a result, reducing the impact of loneliness).
Limit your media consumption to an extent. Watching too much news, reading too many articles, and consuming too much content can be overwhelming. You might decide to check the news twice a day. Or you might decide to limit your time on social media if everyone is talking about the virus. Make sure you seek sites that give factual information about what you can do to stay healthy, such as the CDC and WHO.
Stay Active While it's easy to focus exclusively on how to manage your mental health and loneliness directly during a crisis, we sometimes forget that our physical and mental health are delicately intertwined.
If you spend weeks of isolation not getting any exercise, this will have a detrimental effect on your ability to cope mentally. Below are some ideas of at-home activities that you can keep doing to stay active.
All of us want to feel like we belong and that our life has importance, which is why incorporating meaningful activities into each day is important. Doing something meaningful each day, even if only for a short period, will give you a sense of purpose and identity.
Only you know what will create meaning in your life, but below are some ideas to get you started:
Family & Friends Can you think of any out-of-the-box ways to stay in contact with friends and family? If you are comfortable using technology, there are numerous ways you can stay in touch. If you prefer more traditional ways of communicating, there are still options for you. Below are some ideas to stay in touch with your loved ones.
Below are some examples of online connections that you can make.
If you're finding it hard to express what you are feeling, channeling your feelings into creating something can be cathartic. In addition, when you create something you enter the "creative magic zone," which can be a form of meditation in itself.
Below are a few lists of projects that you could try.
Using those few basic tools, you're sure to find something online to get you started. You could even focus on culinary arts and focus on cooking or baking projects.
Distract Yourself Another way to boost your mental health is to find healthy distractions. This might come in the form of reading, watching shows, listening to music, or finding other activities that interest you. Below are some ideas to help.
Instead of resisting your feelings, instead, find ways to be accepting of them as coming and going. This helps to take away their power and ease your unhappiness.
Remember that your feelings will change. If you are still struggling, try practicing guided meditation following a Youtube video.
Show Compassion to Others It might seem counterintuitive, but if you are struggling yourself, sometimes offering help to others who are feeling lonely can make you feel less lonely yourself. Make a phone call, send a text, send a letter, or comment on someone's social media posts. Be supportive and offer words of encouragement.
The Health Consequences of LonelinessCoping as an Older Adult Older adults (aged 65+) may be particularly susceptible to loneliness during coronavirus. This group is most likely to self-isolate due to fear of infection, while also potentially having fewer supports in place to feel less lonely. The Baby Boomers, in particular, may be the most affected by this pandemic. Older adults can stave off loneliness during this time in the following ways: