For many Americans, life has changed drastically in just a few days. Your work may have closed, events are canceled, and many shops and businesses have stopped or reduced normal operations. But many people who live alone are also about to face another concern: loneliness.
As the calls for social distancing increase across the country, you may be worrying about the days to come. If you live in an area that already has many cases of COVID-19, you may have already spent days or weeks at home with nowhere to go.
You may, at some point, start to wonder if spending some time with a few friends is really so bad. You might also believe there’s no harm in going out, if restaurants and bars in your state are still open, since you’re young and healthy and will only face mild symptoms if you even contract the virus at all.
This new coronavirus is a serious threat. No matter how lonely or healthy you feel, avoid giving in to the temptation to hang out in a group or go out to eat. You could easily spread the virus, if you have an asymptomatic case, or contract it and spread it to others, even if you don’t seem to sicken yourself.
Right now, it’s best to stay home unless you’re running a necessary errand, like grocery shopping or going to work if you can’t telecommute. But isolation can be distressing, especially isolation of an indeterminate length, and it’s possible social distancing will remain standard practice for some time.
Isolation and loneliness may challenge you, but know your actions will help keep you, and anyone else you might encounter, in good health.
SIGNS YOU’RE EXPERIENCING COVID-19 LONELINESSIt must be acknowledged: If you live alone, you’ll most likely experience some distress during COVID-19 social distancing, self-isolation, or quarantine. Extroverts, introverts, and everyone in between are bound to have some challenges coping with prolonged, enforced isolation.
Even if you ordinarily feel fine going without human contact for several days, you typically know you have that option available. But now you can’t read at your favorite coffee shop, meet a date for a drink, play group sports, or go to your game night. This interruption to your routine can make you feel somewhat at a loss.
Some people can cope with isolation fairly easily, but others have a harder time managing loneliness. Isolation can have a negative impact on mental health, if you don’t act to address it.
Look out for these key signs:
But keeping your distance from friends and loved ones doesn’t mean you have to cut off contact entirely. In fact, the opposite is recommended: If you aren’t spending face-to-face time with loved ones, increasing your text, telephone, letter writing, and video chat interactions can help combat your loneliness.
Think of it as physical distancing rather than social distancing, and try these tips to stay connected:
Stay in touch with friends and familyEven if you can’t physically spend time together, prioritize the contact you can have: text messages, phone calls, FaceTime or Skype. Spending virtual “time” with the people you care about may not feel exactly the same, but it can still help counter the worst of your loneliness.
In particular, reach out to older relatives and loved ones who may not be able to set foot outside their house at all. Remind them of your love and affection and encourage them to follow isolation requirements for their own safety. This has the double impact of reducing isolation for you both.
Limit social media useWhile social media apps can be a good way to connect with your network of friends and family, spending too much time on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram could make you feel worse. Seeing photos of people enjoying time with their family or roommates could increase feelings of loneliness, for example. Making posts that don’t get many comments or responses could also trigger feelings of anxiety or depression.
There’s no need to avoid social media entirely. Just stay aware of how it affects your mood and move on to a different activity if you start to notice a negative impact.
Get to know your neighborsYes, you need to maintain a physical distance of 6 feet from other people. But don’t let that stop you from talking to your neighbor across the hall or from your back patio. As long as you’re both healthy, you can even sit and talk outside, as long as you keep your distance.
Consider fostering or adopting a petAre pet shelters in your area are still operating? Do you know someone who needs to find a home for a cat, dog, or other small creature?
If your financial circumstances and living situation allow, finding a furry friend could help you avoid loneliness during COVID-19 social distancing. Pets offer companionship and love, with no strings attached. By bringing home a pet, you’re also helping relieve the burden on shelters, who may be financially strapped or lack volunteers during this crisis.
If you aren’t sure about making a long-term commitment to pet adoption, you might also consider temporarily fostering an animal in need. Many pet owners who become ill or need to spend time in the hospital will need someone to care for their pet.
Just remember to create a plan for your pet’s care, whether you already have a pet or plan to adopt, in the event that you get sick.
If you’re in good health but can’t have a pet or don’t feel able to adopt, you might ask your local shelter if they need volunteers.
Stay physically activeYes, in most cases, you can still get outside! Exercise and sunlight can improve your mood and offer additional physical and emotional health benefits during times of stress.
When you don’t have much else to do, long walks can offer opportunities for mindfulness, appreciation of the wider world, and even meditation on the go. Jogging, biking, and skating are all great activities, too. Keep your distance, but increase your sense of connection with your community by smiling, waving, or greeting others you pass—even if you normally tend to avoid eye contact. Compassion and solidarity are more important now than ever before.
Just practice good hygiene: take care not to touch things, carry hand sanitizer, and wash your hands often.
REMAINING POSITIVE DURING A PANDEMICThe coronavirus pandemic may be one of the most challenging events you’ve experienced. Living alone, without friends or family members to offer comfort and support, may only worsen feelings of fear, anxiety, and unease.
But take heart in the fact that your isolation won’t last forever. It’s tough to be alone, but remember the reason: By keeping your distance, you’re doing your part to help reduce the spread of the virus and protect yourself and your loved ones. Keeping this goal in mind can help reduce the distress of COVID-19 social distancing.
It’s always a good idea to talk to a mental health professional if you experience intense distress, despair, or hopelessness, or if you have thoughts of suicide. Find a therapist who offers telehealth services on GoodTherapy today!
A TELEHEALTH SOLUTION FOR MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONALSAs therapists and other mental health professionals navigate life right now, we know and understand how current events may be impacting your professional commitments to the patients you care for, your own family, and your personal well-being. We want to help you maintain as much normalcy as possible during the next few weeks. If you’re ready to pick up sessions right where you left off, we’re so excited to share that we’re officially offering our members (on select plans*) free telehealth. We hope this closes the gap and eases social distancing for you and your patients. Learn more and get started here.
*Included at no cost for Annual and Annual Billed Monthly membership plans. Monthly members have access at no charge for 90 days then will billed $9.99/month after the trial period ends.
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I write articles based on my experience as a therapist or a training or conference attendee. Many of these articles are written by others who are experts in their field and I share their information as resources for others.