COVID-19 has touched more than just our bodies. Our routines, social interactions, financial situations, and wellbeing have also been impacted. Although social isolation doesn’t necessarily equate to loneliness it can still be a contributing factor. With this in mind, some are calling COVID-19 a double pandemic.
According to YouGov, 19% of US adults reported feeling lonely pre-pandemic, whereas roughly 26% have reported feeling lonely during COVID-19. In order to understand what this means, we asked Joyce Shulman, TEDx Expert on Loneliness, and other experts to shed light on how isolation plays into loneliness.
Joyce indicates that “Isolation can certainly contribute to loneliness, but they are two distinct things. Isolation is the physical state of being alone. Loneliness, on the other hand, is emotional — the feeling that you are missing the kind of meaningful interpersonal connections that all human beings need in one way or the other.”
Although things may be different now, it’s still possible to connect with our loved ones while apart. To do so, Joyce offers the following suggestion:
Get creative about how to connect. For instance, I love to walk with my friends and my work colleagues. It is where we consistently have the best conversations and forge the deepest connections. These days, that isn’t always possible so we schedule “walk and talks” where we pop in our earbuds and walk together even though we are in different places. Is it the same? Nope. But it absolutely forges connection and lifts loneliness.
Connecting might not seem hard, but Joyce mentions that “when you need it most, you will feel like it least.” As such, she encourages everyone to “dig deep and push yourself to take steps to forge those all-important connections that will help to lift the loneliness.”
In addition to interviewing Joyce, we also heard from upwards of 40 therapists, psychologists, and life coaches. When asked to share practical tips and resources for people experiencing loneliness during COVID-19, the majority mentioned various ways to stay connected. Here’s a collection of their helpful suggestions:
– Incorporate gratitude. Dr. Patricia Celan, a postgraduate psychiatry resident at Dalhousie University in Canada recommends making a daily gratitude list of at least 3 non-repeating things. According to Dr. Celan, even writing down the smallest things like, “My bed is comfortable” will do the trick.
– Create a Book Club. Dr. Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist and depression/anxiety expert, suggests forming a book club. “Whether you meet in person weekly or via video, connecting over books is a sure-fire way to beat loneliness.”
– Teach your expertise. Randi Levin, a Transitional Life Strategist, suggests finding opportunities to teach your expertise. This might include cooking, art, music, or even tutoring an academic subject you are passionate about. According to Randi, “sharing what you know will not only empower you, it will draw you to others.”
– Pick up a new hobby. “We saw the rise (no pun intended) of baking at the start of the pandemic, I believe part of this stemmed from the distraction and excitement a new hobby can present in an otherwise trying time. If you’ve always wanted to learn Spanish or paint but have never had the time before, start now. This may help you move away from the feelings of loneliness and refocus on something that you feel excited by.” — Jessica Small, M.A., LMFT with Growing Self Counseling and Coaching.
– Offer your help to someone else. “Paradoxically, lonely people derive great benefit by supporting someone else. It is a low-risk way to reach out to another person, especially if that feels intimidating right now. It can also shift your brain out of your self-preservation mode. Send a message to someone now and offer your support, assistance, or help.” — Stephanie Harrison, Founder and CEO of The New Happy
– Seek help. According to Lucinda Koza, speaker and thought leader on millennial caregiving and healthtech, “Now is not the time to turn inward. You can practice safe distancing without ‘SOCIAL’ distancing.” Lucinda also suggests trying mental health apps or Telehealth sessions if you are feeling particularly lonely, depressed or anxious. A few options for this include I-ally.com, Airapy.io, Betterhelp.com, and join-real.com.
– Wrap yourself in a blanket or take a warm bath. In the absence of frequent hugs, it’s important to find other ways to relieve stress. Steven Rosenberg, Ph.D., suggests wrapping yourself in a blanket or taking a warm bath because both activities are great stress relievers.
– Enjoy Nature. When you do go for a walk, Dana Humphrey suggests setting your focus on just the experience of walking and your surroundings. According to Dana, this might look like noticing your feet on the ground, the fresh air, sunshine, birds singing, etc.
– One person each day. Perhaps it feels daunting to check-in with everyone via the phone. Instead, Dr.Krystal L. Culler, DBH, M.A. recommends reaching out to at least one person daily through various ways such as a card by post, a quick email, a socially-distant visit, a virtual coffee date, or even a phone call if you are up feeling up to it. It’s nice to remember that there are other ways to connect with loved ones from afar.
– Participate in a group challenge. If you feel stuck and need some additional ideas, consider participating in the“Keep in Touch Challenge” created by Tiffany Williams.
– Practice vulnerability. Sometimes, we just need a little help from our friends. If you are feeling lonely, Ned Presnall, LCSW suggests requesting a phone call. This may feel risky and emotionally vulnerable, but according to Ned, “there’s no better way to fight loneliness than by connecting with others.”
Nearly every therapist, psychologist, and life coach suggested connection as the antidote to loneliness. Several psychologists, however, mentioned how people intuitively turn inward instead of outward when they are feeling sad or low. In moments like these, the above suggestions are meant to provide practical ways to reach outward and either ask for help or be the help someone else is looking for.
Do you have any other ideas about how to stay connected while apart? Feel free to share them in the comments below [or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org]! We would be happy to hear from you.