How to Cope with Loneliness During Times of Social Distancing
From meditation to virtual happy hours, find ways to mitigate loneliness amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The coronavirus pandemic is affecting our daily lives in ways we never could have predicted, and we are all doing our part to slow the spread of COVID-19 through social distancing. And even though we're unified by the same mission, we have never been more isolated. According to studies noted by the Health Resources and Services Administration, it's been found that loneliness can be as detrimental to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
There's no denying that social distancing can be an emotionally trying time, but there are ways to remain social and feel fulfilled while confined to our homes—and that's true whether we live with a family or by ourselves. "Human beings are wired to connect," says Nisha Gupta, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and assistant professor of psychology at the University of West Georgia. "But this crisis actually offers a significant opportunity to learn how to be a companion to ourselves, so that we can transform loneliness into nourishing solitude. That'll be the task for many of us during this time of COVID-19: Overcoming loneliness by learning to self-companion." Below are steps we can all take to overcome feelings of loneliness during this period of social distance.
Open Your Mind to a New Perspective
Instead of equating loneliness to "bad," think of loneliness as "opportunity." Gupta's notion of "nourishing solitude" is the idea that shared loneliness can give us the opportunity to be vulnerable and open. Solitude by definition isn't detrimental—in fact, it can be nourishing.
Go on a "Self-Date" Daily
As cheesy as a date with yourself might sound, the experts encourage you to try it. Do something that is totally solitary every day, whether it's journaling, reading, drawing, or going on a virtual museum tour. This helps "transform loneliness into creative solitude," explains Gupta.
Find Ways to Get Physical Touch
"We may see loneliness accelerating from the sheer depletion of oxytocin in our body due to deprivation of human touch," says Gupta. Snuggle with a pet, use an electric back massager, or try a weighted blanket to get your fill.
Schedule Weekly Virtual Happy Hours or Dinners
You've probably already thought of this, but consider devoting one day a week and making it a part of your scheduled routine. If you're a morning person, ask a friend to start your days off with a morning coffee hangout on FaceTime, or grab a group of friends and video chat via Zoom for happy hour. Patrice N. Douglas, LMFT minority mental health expert, suggests "If you are in school, virtual study sessions are a hit. Everyone logs in and sees each other but are working on their own projects."
Practice a Daily Act of Kindness
Whether it's offering to drop off groceries for an elderly neighbor or just texting a random compliment to a friend, a daily act of sweetness is a powerful way to connect.
Reach Out to Someone You Haven't Talked to in a While
This doesn't mean rekindling old relationships. It can be tempting to reignite a connection with an ex during a pandemic, but it may not be best for your mental health in the long run. Go through your contacts and choose an old friend who you haven't spoken with in a while.
Host a "Netflix Party"
Netflix came out with a Google Chrome extension so that you can watch the same movie or show with friends and chat in real time. Also consider organizing a reality TV show bracket with friends, where you compete to guess the outcome of a reality show.
Take a Virtual Workout Class
Maintaining physical activity during quarantine is crucial. "Many fitness influencers on Instagram are offering Zumba or yoga classes for free or a small fee via cash app," explains Douglas. If you want something less serious but still active? Host a virtual dance party.
Call Into a Radio Talk Show
When's the last time you called into a radio talk show? It might sound random, but Douglas suggests it's a great way to connect. "Many shows are having open discussions about anything. Call in and give your opinions about the topic and debate."
Download a Meditation App
You've probably heard about the benefits of meditation apps like Headspace, Stop, Breathe & Think, or Calm, but have you actually taken the initiative to download them and use them daily? There's never been a better time. Finding your inner calm when the world around you seems erratic goes a long way in mitigating feelings of loneliness.
Yes, Dating Apps Still Exist During a Pandemic
It's a misconception that you can't online date during a pandemic. Gupta explains that many people still enjoy the connection of chatting on dating apps, "[Get] to know people via texting and phone calls since meeting-in-person is off the table for now."
It's Okay to Take a Break from Social Media
Social media is an invaluable tool for connecting, but it can also be a very lonely place. Peering in on other people's (carefully curated) lives can cause anxiety, so give yourself the space to take a break from Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
If loneliness turns into despair and you are worried about your mental health, don't hesitate to reach out for professional mental health services online; find a therapist offering virtual sessions via Psychology Today, download Talkspace or BetterHelp for virtual counseling, call crisis hotlines such as the SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline for 24/7 crisis counseling (1-800-985-5990), the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255), or text HOME to 741741 (Crisis Text Hotline).