Most of Europe and the rest of the world has spent at least a month if not longer in various forms of lockdown. From not being allowed out without permission to partial confinement, our reality has changed a lot due to COVID19. With that, we are facing the new reality of spending a lot of time alone, and the implications for our mental health.
I am fortunate to live with 2 other people, and while we’re all spending a lot more time indoors and together, I don’t have to wait out this epidemic by myself. I’m also glad that we are going through this in the age of the internet, where it’s possible for us to stay connected and talk to friends and family thanks to Whatsapp, Skype, Zoom, and any other tool of our choice.
Still the reality is, if you have to spend a month or more alone, it’s going to suck to say the least. It’s going to be hard, being stuck with your own thoughts, nowhere to go and no one to talk to. Walking round your apartment, wondering when this will be over. Even for the introverts, we are by nature social beings so we need to be with others. We need to connect and feel part of a tribe, and when that’s suddenly taken away from us it’s hard.
Do you ever remember being asked “What’s the worst feeling in the world”? Most people answer hate, but for me it’s loneliness. When I was studying in the UK I was pretty depressed for most of it. During that time I remember feeling really lonely. I remember one evening being out with friends in a bar, and yet still feeling alone. It was awful and I don’t wish that on anyone.
But the reality is, many people might be experiencing a form of loneliness or distress due to the forced isolation measures. And this might take its toll on your mental health. So without further ado, I’ve put together a bunch of resources on the topic.
the impact of social isolation and loneliness
The resources listed below are designed to give you a better understanding of the phenomenon of isolation, if this is new to you. I often find that understanding the root of an issue can be helpful to me as I can rationalize it. This might also help put things into perspective for you if you’re not feeling this so intensely but know someone else who is.
However the purpose of these articles is absolutely not to be alarmist. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or panicked then do not keep reading and simply move on to the next section.
- The risks of social isolation, by the American Psychological Association
- Health effects of social isolation and loneliness, by the Journal of Aging Lifecare
- Social isolation, loneliness in older people pose health risks, by the National Institute on Aging
- How isolation can affect physical and mental health, by the Guardian
- The dangers of social isolation during a pandemic, by the European Public Health alliance
- How loneliness from coronavirus isolation takes its own toll, by the New Yorker
- Isolation has profound effects on the human body and brain. Here’s what happens by Science Alert
- Loneliness and isolation, by Lifeline
Ten tips to cope with isolation and loneliness
First of all, don’t panic or worry. I know that’s easy to say and perhaps reading some of the resources above has made you worried. But really try to take a step back, slow down, and breathe. Here are a couple of important things
- Remember, it’s ok to feel this way. Whether you’re feeling scared, alone or actually pretty good. No matter what it is, don’t feel bad about it or try to reject the feeling. If you’re feeling guilty about the way you’re feeling then try practising some self-compassion.
- You are not alone. The main reason I started this blog is to help people realize they’re not alone, and this is the case for a lot of mental health problems. You might think you’re the only one, wonder if you’re crazy, and it might make you feel more isolated (the irony of that). But don’t worry, many other people are feeling like you.
- Build, or work on your resilience. Resilience is your ability to overcome setbacks, and in this particular instance it will be really helpful for you. You are probably already resilient without even realizing it, so do some digging to find those moments where you overcame something difficult.
- Ask for help. It’s really hard to do so, I myself am pretty bad at it. But the truth is, we all need help sometimes. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a friend and ask to speak to them, share how you’re feeling, or even ask for professional help from a psychologist. Many companies are now offering increased psychological support as they know things have suddenly changed overnight. Don’t hesitate to make use of it!
- Learn to cope better with uncertainty. A large part of your anxiety or fear over loneliness might be because you don’t know when this will end. You might feel like this will go on forever, or worry that things won’t go back to normal. Learning to cope better with the uncertainty of tomorrow should help alleviate some of that.
- Meditate. Honestly I used to really struggle with meditation, and now I try to do it every day. I’ve found that as someone with an active mind, it helps me to calm my thoughts and stop them going a million miles an hour in my head. Headspace has great meditations of three minutes and small tips and tricks to help you get into it. I started with the sleep casts and gradually worked my way into other meditations. Perhaps it can help you calm your mind for a bit.
- Call your friends! This may sound stupid but really, call them spontaneously or set up a call. Although we have technology, I’ve realized how much we rely on passive methods such as email, Whatsapp and voice notes. Now we’re all distanced we’re suddenly picking up the phone and video calling again as we used to do. Why did we stop? It’s so nice to see your friends over video call! It’s not the same but it’s still great to reconnect, sometimes with people you’ve not spoken to in ages. Just seeing someone’s face and sharing a bit of your day can help.
- Make use of forums or groups. This may sound like a thing out of the 90s but trust me, they’re still out there. The internet may be weird but it also creates a lot of great communities. Many people, for example those diagnosed with a specific disease for the first time, end up finding solace and a community online. If you’re alone, you can certainly find others like you to talk to, who may be experiencing the same thing or just want to chat. I’m not suggesting you fall down a dark hole of the internet and spend the next 6 months there, but don’t forget it can also be a resource.
- Enjoy the small things. Nowadays EVERYONE is offering a free SOMETHING online. Honestly, it’s overwhelming. But the good news is, there’s lot of choice for you to enjoy things you normally can’t. For example, a concert of an artist you’d always wanted to see, a documentary that’s suddenly free, a class with a teacher the other side of the world… You have more time and you don’t even need to leave the comfort of your own home! Make the most of it (but don’t feel guilty if you opt out).
- Enjoy some self-care. Well yes, you can spend all day in your pyjamas now and it doesn’t matter! That’s not to say you should never get dressed any more and stop looking after yourself, but hey why not just enjoy some lounging around? We’re constantly in a rat race so for those of us who can, why not make the most of this new found down time?
In addition to all of the above, here are some articles I found online:
- How to prevent loneliness in a time of social distancing, by Scientific American
- Is social isolation getting to you? Here’s what to do, by the Washington Post
- How to fight the social isolation of coronavirus, by AARP
With that said, I’m wishing you good luck and strength to get through these different times. Remember, it won’t last forever.