Lockdown Loneliness

by Andrea Blundell
Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

Stuck all alone during quarantine? Or in lockdown with someone else who doesn’t understand you, and it's making you feel more and more lonely? How can you deal with Covid-19 loneliness?

1. Admit you are lonely.

Reading this article but still telling yourself you 'aren’t really that lonely….''.? We can’t fix things if we don’t accept they exist.

It’s okay to feel lonely. More people are experiencing it right now than ever. It's also okay to hate being lonely. And it's okay to feel angry that you are alone in a pandemic. It's tough. But here you are, experiencing it.

2. Don’t fight the feeling.

Trying to resist feeling lonely not only takes mental and emotional energy we sorely need in the face of Covid-19. It can also lead to all sorts of habits of distraction that can then cause their own set of problems.

We can overeat (not great when we are in lockdown and can't just pop to the shops and replenish easily), drink too much alcohol, or call the ex that leaves us feeling miserable.

Instead, try to explore what loneliness feels like. Find privacy to be mindful, and let the feeling come up fully. Cry if you need to.

If we just let ourselves feel what we feel, we can feel a shift, and also process the feelings behind the loneliness, like sadness or rage. And we can stop the feeling from clogging up our mind gaining enough clarity to take positive action.

3. Stop the blame game.

When we are alone we can start to have a whole ton of unhelpful thoughts that seem realistic. But they are actually what psychologists would call'thinking errors', or ‘cognitive distortions’ -- thoughts that deviate from reality.

These can sound like:

  • there is something wrong with me
  • everyone else has someone during quarantine but me
  • if only I wasn’t so stupid to waste time on so-and-so I wouldn’t be alone
  • I am unlikeable/loveable.
Yes, maybe your ways of relating could use some troubleshooting so that intimacy is easier for you. But even people with the very best relating skills sometimes find themselves alone. Right now you are just unlucky.

4. Reach out, but wisely.

When we are lonely we can lower our standards and just want connection, any connection. But this can backfire.

If we reach out the the wrong person, we can end up feeling lonelier, or even having dark thoughts if we also feel rejected and abandoned.

Ask yourself:

  • Is this person a supportive person to reach out to right now?
  • Have they proven trustworthy in the past? If not, who would be a better person to talk to?
If you don't feel you have someone to talk to, are really low, and not sure what to do? Don't overlook calling a mental health help line where volunteers are happy to have a chat.

(The NHS provides a list of mental health hotlines you can can access in the UK - find it here).

5. Be open to new connections.

The challenges a pandemic like Covid-19 present means ‘true colours’ rise.

You might see other sides to people you have long thought of as friends. Behaviours or opinions that go strongly against your own personal values that you find hard to accept, and leave you pulling away.

On the other hand, you might find that people you only know casually are saying things you like on social media. Or that a casual acquaintance gets in touch and it’s nice to chat. Perhaps you start connecting with total strangers on a forum.

Stay open to support and communication from unlikely sources. It's a world that is changing fast, and that can include relationships.

6. Try negative comparison.

It’s normal to notice all the people who aren’t alone, who are with family or a partner, and feel terrible that you are overlooked by the world. And all it does is make you feel worse.

It takes effort to accept you might not be the unluckiest person in the world. To focus on others who are less fortunate. Elderly people who are not only alone but don’t know how to use the internet. People who aren’t alone but are in lockdown with an abuser, those still on the streets in these troubled times, or in countries with little to no medical supplies.

7. Use distraction as required.

Constantly binging on television or video games to avoid loneliness is not usually recommended. But a bit of ‘guerilla tactics’ during troubled times like a pandemic or lockdown makes sense.

Do take time for healthy wellbeing activities like journalling and mindfulness meditation. But if you find yourself watching more junk television than normal, or sleeping in, don’t judge yourself.

8. Help others understand you.

It’s easy to feel misunderstood. It is harder and takes real effort to communicate this and help others to undertstand you. But it’s the best way to stop feeling lonely.

Or course this means YOU have to understand you. So sit down and spend time journalling about:

  • What is it I really want? (to be acknowledged, to not be interrupted, to be listened to…)
  • What do I want people to say to me?
  • What do I want from my relationships right now? (support, encouragement….)
  • What do I have to offer those around me? (listening skills, humour, handy skills…).

9. Troubleshoot your communicating

If there is one thing that can leave us feeling lonelier than ever it’s reaching out to someone, wanting to connect, but then making a mess of it.

We retreat, feeling rejected or faulty. But there’s nothing wrong with you, just your communication.

Read up on communication, a superpower in stressful times, and remember things like:

  • don’t blame (start sentences with I feel —- when you—-, not ‘you make me feel’…)
  • start conversations when you are calm, not upset
  • listen without interrupting
  • reflect back to make sure you’ve understood
  • if you don’t understand ask questions
  • be open to being wrong.

10. Feel something bigger than yourself and others.

This isn’t about religion or believing in God. You can be an avowed atheist and still feel connected to something greater.

It’s about realising that there is more to life than just knowing people. That greater things connect us all somehow.

This might mean:

  • spending time in nature or with animals (or perhaps watching a nature show if you are in lockdown)
  • meditating or praying
  • reflecting on how other people are the same as you
  • listening to uplifting music or singing
  • reading stories about how the human spirit prevails.

11. Help others.

Volunteering is shown by research to improve moods and help us feel part of something bigger. If you can’t leave the house, see if you can help someone over the internet or in a forum.

Or consider helping animals. There are people who have had to rush to their home countries after living abroad for some time, or to take care of family, leaving pets behind. Others who aren’t well enough to take care of their pets. If you love animals, this might be a time to foster.

12. Get professional support.

Is your loneliness so big during this pandemic you are having dark thoughts? Just feel so lost you can't see a way out? And nobody 'gets it'?

A counsellor or psychotherapist will. They also create a safe space to look at other issues hidden behind the loneliness. And he or she will help you learn and practice tools to mean you feel less lonely and more at home being you, even in lockdown and troubled times.

Ready to get some proper support, fast? And all from the safety of your home? Book one of our internet therapists now and start talking your way towards feeling better.

Andrea Blundell is an editor and lead writer with Harley Therapy. She did training in person-centred counselling and coaching.

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