If you learn how to cope with loneliness and social isolation, you’ll stay sound in mind and body through it all. COVID-19 is a global health challenge that has impacted us physically, psychologically, and economically. As scientists work hard to find medicines and vaccines, there are some simple but important things we all can do to minimize exposure and prevent the spread: wash our hands, wear masks, and practice physical distancing.
Physical distancing is challenging emotionally and mentally, and we’re here to help you in every possible way. If you feel lonelier than usual right now, you’re not alone. We’re all in this together as we work diligently to wear face masks, wash our hands, protect others from our coughs and sneezes, and stay inside without visitors to avoid the transmission of COVID-19.
It’s vital that we do our part to safeguard ourselves and our loved ones from illness, but we must be sure not to neglect our mental well-being. We may all need extra comfort, connection, and care, and we should treat these feelings as priorities. After all, the loneliness that can result from social isolation can put us at increased risk for complications associated with coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer, anxiety, and depression, among other health concerns.
Follow these tips for dealing with loneliness and learning to be physically alone but never lonely:
1. Schedule regular family and friend meetings.
Though social isolation and loneliness seem synonymous, they don’t have to go hand in hand. Boost your mood by making remote social appointments with friends and family. The phone is a great way to reach out and (virtually and hygienically) touch someone, but video calls are even better for the spirit. That’s because seeing others’ faces via video conferencing has been shown to reduce loneliness and depression. So try scheduling social hours, book club meetings, joint television program-viewing, or gab sessions on videoconferencing tools such as FaceTime, Zoom, Google Hangouts, or Skype. Coordinate with your loved ones to find a technology that works for you and try adding to your calendar standing appointments with family or friends for quick check-ins that will keep you in touch.
2. Send kindness out into the world.
It may seem challenging to practice random acts of kindness in social isolation, but if you can hatch a plan to brighten someone else’s day, you’ll lighten and uplift your own, too. Check in on neighbors or acquaintances who might be surprised and delighted to hear from you. Pick an occasion to celebrate a friend or family member (such as a birthday or half-birthday, wedding anniversary, upcoming holiday, or “just because” moment) and send a card or email sharing joyful memories or spreading compliments. It’s never a wrong time to tell someone what you admire or love about them. Write a Facebook post about someone who inspires you or share an uplifting quote. If you have money to spare, send a donation to a food bank or patronize a beloved small business that might value your support. If you don’t, write a thoughtful feedback letter or upload a positive review of a business to social media.
3. Take a trip down memory lane.
When you have time, revisit happy memories. Sort through old photos or home movies, reread favorite books, and try to remember details about your first car or your grade school. If you reminisce upon a particularly funny or interesting story, try combating loneliness and social isolation by sharing it with friends and family. Some people may avoid courting nostalgia for the wistful feelings it may induce, but studies show that nostalgia improves feelings of social support and reduces loneliness. Don’t be afraid to stroll down memory lane.
4. Get your body moving.
If you’re able, take a virtual exercise class. Movement is essential to your mental and physical health, and finding online group fitness classes could increase your feelings of social support. Look for live-streamed workouts from outlets like Planet Fitness, or try out some workout videos on YouTube. If you have a favorite yoga teacher, ask whether he or she gives classes over Zoom. You could also find a new yoga practice via a smartphone app like Daily Yoga. No matter what activity you choose, it’ll help improve your mood and bolster your mental health.
5. Hunt for new hobbies and passions.
If you lose yourself in your activities, you’re likelier to keep negative thoughts and feelings at bay. That’s why it’s worth testing out new hobbies and pursuing your passions when you’re physically distanced from others. For example, do you like to absorb yourself in a good book or watch an engrossing show? You might see your favorite fictional character as social surrogates who increase your feelings of belonging. Or you might turn your attention to a challenging crossword or jigsaw puzzle, some handiwork like knitting or crocheting, or an art project like painting or drawing. A creative project with a tangible result could keep your mind engaged and increase your sense of joy and fulfillment.
6. Heal your mind with meditation or prayer.
Filling your consciousness with positive thoughts and wishes or completely clearing your mind helps with alleviating loneliness. Subscribe to a mindfulness or meditation app like Headspace or Calm or scope out a free version like Smiling Mind or Insight Timer. You could also try a guided meditation that encourages you to send loving-kindness to yourself and others, repeating phrases like, “May you live with ease, may you be happy, may you be free from pain.” This type of meditation may make you feel more connected to others. Relax your body and focus on your breathing. If you’re religiously observant, establish a prayer routine that works for your schedule. Embracing mindfulness can help your mind and body feel better connected, ease your feelings of stress, and shift your perspective toward self-compassion.
In the end, physical distancing is an essential, scientifically proven measure people can take to minimize exposure and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Unfortunately, it comes with some personal and social adverse effects, but you can use these tips to help you feel supported and sociable.