Loneliness during COVID-19 has become an unexpected challenge for many. Even if loneliness was never previously a concern for people surrounded by friends and family, or for people who have lived alone for years without discomfort, it seems to be one now.
I’ve been speaking with clients, friends, and family and have even experienced it myself. There is a difference between simple aloneness and COVID-19 loneliness.
What is this about? Why is it different?
Some say it is the unknown. The uncertainty about when things will get back to normal can cause feelings of disconnection. Some say it’s about how they personally are handling the experience. For example, some have said they simply feel left out because they’re being more cautious. Some report they haven’t reached out enough and that’s why they’re alone more than they want to be.
The feeling of loneliness is difficult because often it can seem like nothing really helps — or only helps for a bit. For example, talking with a friend is uplifting in the moment but the relief doesn’t always last.
What tends to have a longer loneliness-reducing effect are activities like taking a walk outside, which can truly shift our mood if we take in our surroundings and breathe in the fresh air; or working on a forward-moving project like de-cluttering, which shifts us into an active state, which is super helpful, because it gets us doing rather than moping.
What’s also different about COVID-19 loneliness is that there’s not only a sense of separation, but actual separation — and that real separation from others can really amp up feelings of loneliness.
Groups that used to get together in person may still do so but more infrequently on Zoom, and, given what is required to go out into the world, many people now simply find it easier to stay in.
In short, it’s the complexity of sustaining contact with others, combined with the fact that it’s so difficult to be spontaneous and spur-of-the-moment, that makes COVID-19 loneliness so different.
Here are a few tips that may help you or someone you know feel more connected:
- Respect for how people are managing their safety during COVID-19 is a top priority but communication is the key. So, don’t assume what someone else’s COVID-19 contact rules are and rule them out of an invitation to a group get-together. Check it out with them. Their rules may have changed, or they may have found a way to feel safe and still participate that is mutually respectful of you and your other guests.
- If you tend to invite-only couples or only singles to certain get-togethers, consider mixing it up. Your single friends may appreciate an evening or afternoon invite during this time even if everyone else is coupled up, and couples may enjoy a break from the couples-only get-togethers they are likely typically invited to attend.
- Don’t assume that all your friends or relations are doing fine because you haven’t heard from them. Reach out. Find out what they are up to. Maybe they’ve discovered some fun COVID-19 safe activity, or maybe they could really benefit from a conversation pick-me-up right now.
- Send friends, family members, and/or associates you haven’t reached out to for a while something that lets them know you’re thinking about them — getting flowers, an ecard, or even a voice memo can literally make someone’s day and keep them uplifted for longer than you might imagine.
- Invite your friends and perhaps their whole family out for a hike, paddle, or other active outings. Creating shared memories through these types of experiences feeds our connective tissue.
- If you’re feeling isolated, get involved in safe volunteer activities or with community action groups. The added benefit is the consistency of contact with others these types of opportunities naturally provide.
Giving of ourselves is the most enriching way to feel we are part of a greater whole. And you never know- you might just change someone’s life.