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Coronavirus

Tips for Coping with Loneliness While Staying Home During COVID-19

Whether we live with others or on our own, perceptions of loneliness and isolation can pervade our experience as we acclimate to the new norms of social distancing, lockdowns, and quarantine status. These are some tips to combat those negative feelings and thoughts.

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As we navigate the stresses and strains of adjusting to living with a worldwide pandemic brings up an array of anxieties and emotions. Conversations these days mainly consist of increasing restrictions on businesses and activity, climbing rates of occurrence, death, sickness, financial uncertainty, and separation from others. These conversations can naturally evoke fear, hopelessness, and a sense of disconnection. Whether we live with others or on our own, perceptions of loneliness and isolation can pervade our experience as we acclimate to the new norms of social distancing, lockdowns, and quarantine status.

Anxiety and isolation impose a toll on the brain’s circuitry. The body intelligently responds to stress by releasing a cascade of hormones designed to prepare us for intense situations– especially ones that involve high levels of fear. And while this response is adaptive in nature, it best serves us in the short-term and can exhaust us when engaged for too long. This results in detriments to our mental and physical health.

Isolation from loved ones, co-workers, and other supports in the community affects us all because we, as humans, have a biological need for social connection which is crucial to both well being and survival. Loneliness is not merely a feeling; it is an innate warning signal to seek out others– similar to hunger serving as a signal to search for food.

Symptoms of loneliness and isolation show up in an array of unhealthy coping responses, including difficulties with sleep, concentration, energy (signs of anxiety and/or depression), eating (too much or too little), addictive behavior (to substances, media, and other stimuli), and other unhealthy behaviors. With awareness of yourself and others, we can engage in the following practices to decrease experiences of loneliness and isolation:

When Feeling Lonely:

  • Start a conversation. Reach out to a family member, friend, co-worker or your manager via a phone call or text. Initiating a conversation can help to stay connected and take your mind off of feeling lonely.

  • Share photos on social media or on another sharing platform so that folks can see what you are doing and ask others to share photos of what they are doing with their time at home.

  • Virtual hangouts. Meet up via video on Zoom, Google Hangouts, Facetime or another video site.

Attractive happy young girl student studying at the college library, sitting at the desk, using laptop computer, having video chat, waving

  • Minimize time in front of the media and try reading the news versus watching it, which is less stimulating to the senses. Choose a news source that you trust and read only twice a day to stay current on events and give yourself a break the rest of the time.

  • Get outside! Take a walk or do yard work, say hello to others who are outside and engage in conversation (while maintaining social distancing recommendations).

  • Help someone in need. Reach out to a neighbor or elderly person in your family or community and offer to help with yard work, grocery shopping, walking their pet – doing something for others and acting in service takes the focus off your situation and helps you feel connected to others.

  • Take a virtual fitness class. Many local gyms and other fitness studios are offering free or reduced cost classes that are live streamed so that people can still move together and see each other in a virtual space.

  • Engage in self-care that makes you feel good. Meditate, take a warm bath, watch a favorite movie, or listen to music that brings you joy.

Concerned About Another Who May Be Lonely:

  • Send a message or give them a call and let them know you are thinking about them.

  • Offer to set up a video meet up to gather and share experiences.

  • Listen and show interest in what they are telling you. Validate their feelings and let them know that they are not alone, and we are all coping with difficulties right now.

  • Share a book or movie that you enjoy and would like for them to try – and then set up a time to chat about it.

Suffering from loneliness is similar to suffering from physical pain, and it heightens the stress response, our nervous system’s reaction to suffering that exhausts us in the first place. This can show up through disruptions in sleep, increased bodily inflammation, and decreased immune functioning.

While staying home from the office and all of the activities we enjoy in life can conjure up feelings of isolation and loneliness, the reality is that practicing social distancing is an act of altruism– protecting yourself and others who may be more susceptible. And while uncomfortable at times, it provides us with an opportunity to reflect upon the value of our bonds and community.  Imagine how grateful we will be to return to our more “normal” lives! Take good care out there!

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Diane Malaspina
Ph.D., Psychologist | See more posts by this author

Hi! My name is Diane Malaspina and I'm a psychologist and yoga instructor with over 20 years of experience in the wellness industry. I'm a regular contributor to Thrive Global, an online publication who's aim is to reduce workplace burnout and enhance optimal performance. I also contribute work to Mind Body Green, Yoga International, and Yoga Journal.

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