Coping With Loneliness During The COVID-19 Outbreak
COVID-19 is causing massive disruptions to our daily lives, and while “we’re all in this together” is helpful in theory, if you live alone the required social distancing can be particularly trying.
“We are, by our nature, social creatures who are literally wired to connect with others, and we need that connection in order to help us grow and thrive,” says marriage and family therapist Chad Perman.
Physical Distancing Doesn’t Mean Social Isolation
“It’s important that we do our very best to stay socially connected — it can literally help our immune systems function better, as well as ward off the effects of loneliness,” says Perman. “To stay connected to our friends, family, and the larger world during this time, it’s important to reach out to others, to participate in online communities or gathering places, and to find new ways to socialize without leaving the house.”
Thanks to technology, we are never more than a text, screen, or phone call away from others, and it’s vital that we engage with people in whatever ways we can.
Perman says the first thing we need to do is reach out. It’s particularly important for those who find themselves experiencing excessive worry and even panic. “Reach out to others. Don’t try to be ‘strong’ by going it alone,” says Perman. “That often only makes things worse. Remember, our brains have been wired over millions of years to value and need a connection with others.”
“Check in with your friends, family, and loved ones — especially over video, where you can see their face,” says Perman. “Create or join virtual communities or activities — many of which have sprung up online organically in the past week — so that you can ‘hang out’ with others and unwind, de-stress, or simply enjoy one another’s company.”
Practice Good Self-care
“Getting physical exercise in whatever ways we can, getting good sleep, and trying to eat well are all important,” says Perman. “Reading a good book, listening to music you love, or seeking out other creative or artistic activities and outlets can be enormously restorative and connecting as well. Perman also suggests:
- Meditation or other mindfulness habits and practices. These can help us create both an internal anchor for ourselves and ground us in the present here-and-now experience. Calm.com offers free meditations
- Finding meaning or purpose. It’s a great way to out of our own heads and into a place where we can be present for ourselves and for the world around us. Volunteering in the community can be a great way to do this. Know how to sew? Volunteers are being sought to sew masks for hospital staff.
- Keep a gratitude journal. It can remind us of all the good that exists all around us, even in these challenging times.
This time may be especially difficult for seniors who don’t have many connections or who are not able to get outside. Perman suggests that senior citizens who have previously been resisting technology (especially smartphones) consider changing that stance, and perhaps giving it a try. “Learning how to use things like basic texting or video calls can go a long way right now towards keeping them more connected with their friends and loved ones who won’t be able to physically spend much time with them during this current crisis,” says Perman.
But for seniors who aren’t able to spend time connecting online, a few other things to consider would be reading more (especially fiction), staying physically active and writing letters or cards to loved ones to increase their sense of human connection.
This is also a good time for us to check in on our senior neighbors and offer help in whatever ways we can. Offer to buy groceries and leave them on the doorstep or run essential errands. “Kindness, connectivity, and compassion are vital right now, especially for our more vulnerable populations and we should all be thinking about innovative ways to provide these things to seniors during this health crisis,” says Perman.