Managing Loneliness & Social Distancing During COVID-19

As the current COVID-19 crisis unfolds, social distancing has become an integral part of our lives and for the first time we have been asked to isolate and stay away from our family and friends for a prolonged period of time. This might be especially hard for those who are living alone. Feeling lonely during this pandemic is normal, and it is important to find ways to still feel connected with others.

For some people the reality of social distancing may feel unbearable, for others more like relief, which may in turn trigger guilt that they are enjoying peace as a world crisis unfolds. Bottom line, no feeling is ever wrong. 

Social Distancing For Introverts Versus Extroverts

Social distancing is likely to be easier for introverts than extroverts. This is based on the definition that says that introverts tend to find their energy in themselves and through relative solitude, whereas extroverts tend to find their energy in direct connection with others and in company. But remember – all introverts need connection to others too, and all extroverts need some down or alone time – it’s all a matter of balance. 

This points to a truth our minds sometimes forget – being alone and being lonely are very different things. Loneliness is a psychological condition that does not necessarily refer to being alone, but how connected to others we feel. This explains why sometimes you can feel lonely even though you are with friends, or in a crowd.

Have you ever felt alone in a large group of people? Have you struggled to connect with loved ones when you’ve been physically alone?

If you can answer yes to either of those, or simply imagine them to be the case, then you can see the difference between the feeling of loneliness and the physical experience of being alone.

Loneliness is that yearning desire for connection when, for whatever reason, we can’t feel it. Neuroscience shows that loneliness is a vital biological drive that encourages us to connect with other human beings, in the same way that hunger prompts us to eat, and thirst to drink water.  

Physically being with others and giving your friend or family a hug, triggers the release of oxytocin, the love hormone, which plays an important role in happiness, positive mental health and the feeling of belonging to a group, all of which are essential for optimal mental health and wellbeing. 

The physical distancing that COVID-19 brings, means we are not able to get the same levels of oxytocin, and thus it is normal to experience feelings of low mood and detachment. You may feel sad, or even abandoned, because you believe there is no one available to be with you. You may also be afraid to be on your own, because you need other peoples’ companionship and closeness in order to feel safe and secure.

Being alone for a long period of time can often trigger loneliness, and even someone who is thought to be an introvert would start missing the in-person interaction they used to have with their friends and family.

How To Cope With Loneliness During Social Distancing

Here are some tips and solutions to help you manage your experience of loneliness and social distancing during COVID-19.

  1. Acknowledge Your Feelings

If you feel alone and scared right now, or disconnected from others, notice and name your feelings, perhaps write them down in a journal, as this will help you process and work through them in a healthy way.

When you feel lonely, the trick is to notice your longing for connection, acknowledge it and then take some kind of action around it. That action may be external (reaching out, calling, texting, writing) or internal (being with the part of us that feels lonely, letting that part know “It’s OK, the rest of me is here, we got this”, or simply tuning into those connections with loved ones we know are strong and there, whether we are with them or not). 

And above all, watch out for those self-critical voices that can sometimes appear and tell us that we are wrong, unlikeable or self-indulgent. If those parts of you are loud, then gently remind yourself of an absolute psychological truth – no feeling is ever wrong, they just are what they are, including this feeling of loneliness.

  1. Create A Routine & Plan Your Day

Creating a structure for the day ahead can give you a much needed sense of control during these uncertain times. Filling your day with activities you enjoy will help you feel motivated, and distract you from negative thoughts. Prioritizing sleep, eating well and exercising are all great ways of boosting your mood and maintaining a positive outlook.

  1. Arrange Regular Video & Phone Calls With Your Loved Ones

Scheduling video calls with your family or friends can help you feel socially connected to them, despite the physical distance between you. If you are feeling overwhelmed or sad by the current situation, share your feelings and thoughts with someone you trust, as this can help you feel more understood and valued. 

Remember, if you are still feeling lonely even though you are communicating with people, this is a normal feeling, and by acknowledging and discussing it, you will start to feel some relief.

Social distancing and social isolation due to COVID-19 is something we are all experiencing, we are in this situation together and many people will share similar feelings as you. Focusing on a sense of community spirit that arises as a result, will help you feel part of a group and reduce your feelings of loneliness.

How We Can Support You

If you are feeling lonely, and struggling with your mental health as a result of the COVID-19 isolation, talking with a therapist allows you to feel heard and understood, and creates a space for you to explore your feelings. Working on the underlying factors that are contributing to your experience of loneliness, will support you in finding new ways to connect, even in the current global crisis.

The EmotionMatters Team works with all aspects of mental health and wellbeing, combining psychotherapy and counselling to help you build a stronger mind, with nutritional and lifestyle interventions to support you in building optimal physical health.