Perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of dealing with the Coronavirus during the past year is an increase of feelings of isolation or loneliness. In the seemingly never-ending age of COVID-19, many people are experiencing an all-new and ever-changing set of challenges. Beyond obvious health concerns, our happiness and well-being are being impacted by media reports of an unrelenting pandemic.
According to psychotherapist April Snow, “Human connection is vital not just for survival, but plays a big part in your overall well-being. Countless studies have shown the impact loneliness has on physical and mental health, as well as our ability to manage stress. So, if you’re feeling lonely and beating yourself up for making a “big deal” out of it, just know that your reaction is justified.”
In fact, loneliness is a common experience; as many as 80% of those under 18 years of age and 40% of adults over 65 years of age report being lonely at least sometimes, with levels of loneliness gradually diminishing through the middle adult years, and then increasing in old age (i.e., over 70 years).
Unsurprisingly, loneliness is synonymous with perceived social isolation, not with objective social isolation. Truth be told, people can live relatively solitary lives and not feel lonely, and conversely, they can have an apparently rich social life and feel lonely. Loneliness is defined as a distressing feeling that accompanies the perception that one’s social needs are not being met by the quantity or especially the quality of one’s social relationships.
If you’re reading this article because you feel isolated or want to help a friend or family member who is struggling with loneliness, you are already on the road to success. An interest and willingness to seek support for yourself or others and to find tools for recovery are essential to sustaining a meaningful life. If your loneliness continues and has begun to affect your everyday life, a combination of therapy and reading books or articles may assist you. These eight strategies may help you cope with loneliness.
- Practice self-compassion. Learn to challenge negative self-talk and “Should” self-talk statements such as “I shouldn’t feel lonely when others are suffering.” Avoid making judgments about the way you feel (that tend to be critical) and talk to yourself like you would to a friend, such as “It’s no wonder you are lonely, the pandemic is very tough.” Being kind to yourself will help you to discover and sustain a sense of hope during this unprecedented time of stress and uncertainty.
- Develop better communication skills. Improve your listening skills and try not to make assumptions about why others feel a certain way. Validate and express empathy to others. If you are experiencing a flood of loneliness, ask family members and friends if they feel the same way. Do your best not to make judgments about their comments. Every human has a different experience and try not to take it personal if you get a response like “I don’t understand why you feel so lonely.”
- Tackle the things undone. We all have a “to do” list a mile long. And so many of those things, from reorganizing a closet to replanting that flower that can’t seem to flourish in the garden, are now possible. We have more time at home than ever, you can gain a sense of satisfaction and productivity in a climate that increasingly sees people feeling adrift by taking action.
- Cultivate a healthy mind and body. Even though your gym may be closed due to the coronavirus, you can create an exercise routine that supports a sound body and mind. By inviting others to walk, hike or bike, you will play a part in improving both physical fitness and feelings of loneliness. Many gyms offer on-line classes or check-out You tube exercise classes.
- Make a daily intention of connecting to others. While we might not be able to go to an office to work or volunteer, we can find ways to support or advocate for others on-line or with phone calls or text messages.
- Connect virtually. Although it’s not as personal as an in-person connection, don’t forget to use Zoom, FaceTime, or Google Meet to connect with friends and family in creative ways. Have dinner together, watch a movie, or attend religious services offered by many churches on Zoom.
- Write letters or send postcards to family, friends, people you’ve lost touch with. Or write letters and have weekly phone calls to close friends or family members who can provide a source of solace to you during the pandemic.
- Find a purpose or meaning in your life: According to Viktor Frankel, who was a psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, finding meaning in your experiences, might help shield you from many hardships. He writes, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear almost any ‘how.’”
Further, Frankel believed that there are three ways to do this: making a difference in the world, having a particular experience, and by adopting a particular attitude of resilience. For instance, after giving up on my goal of achieving a career in journalism (in my early 20’s) to pursue training as a psychotherapist, I rediscovered my interest in writing twenty years later. While going through a challenging divorce, I wrote countless articles and published two books. This decision not only ignited a sense of meaning and purpose to my life, I was able to share my experience with others and this helped to expand my therapy practice.
Although all of the strategies covered in my list can be helpful, deciding not to give into isolation and making a daily intention to reach out to others might be the most crucial. For instance, choosing to connect with others via zoom, phone calls or text, and/or taking daily walks with a friend (with a mask on), can re-direct your thoughts away from feelings of loneliness, and will help you immeasurably over time.
And with “stay at home” and or quarantine orders across the globe creating a new and precarious dynamic for households and individuals, take comfort in knowing that you’re not in this alone, and that ultimately, you’re stronger connecting with others.
Find Terry on Twitter, Facebook, and, movingpastdivorce.com. Terry’s award-winning book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website. Her new book The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around was published by Sounds True on February 18, 2020.
I’d love to hear from you and answer your questions about relationships, divorce, marriage, and remarriage. Please ask a question here. Thanks! Terry