It’s really tough right now. Lockdown seems to be hitting harder in 2021. It’s bad enough seeing all the negative news on the TV, but it feels so much worse when we can’t socialise the way we used to. No venting frustrations with a buddy over a beer, and Zoom fatigue is real. It’s hardly surprising so many of us feel lonely and isolated!
Overcoming social isolation when social activities aren’t possible IS possible – we look at some ways you can conquer loneliness and isolation.
Acknowledge your feelings
You are far from alone in being lonely. Currently it’s estimated that at least 50% of adults feel lonely, especially young adults.
Why? We’ve evolved over millions of years to be social animals. Relying on being part of a larger social group and having deep and meaningful connections is part of our biological make-up. This is a huge part of being a human. When this is suddenly taken away from us, our brain sets off all kinds of primal alarm bells similar to those we get with hunger and pain.
Feeling lonely right now is completely normal and your feelings are valid. Take comfort in knowing this.
Re-evaluate your social needs
Another key part of feeling lonely is the discrepancy between what we are getting from our social connections and what we think we should have. Social media has a big part to play in amplifying our desire to be doing way more social stuff than what is really normal or necessary. This discrepancy can lead to you being critical of yourself for not having that connection that you can’t really have right now. So it’s worthwhile taking a reality check of what you really need. After all, solitude is actually very good for us.
Force yourself to connect with people
Don’t let your physical distancing regime be a barrier: find ways to make meaningful connections happen.
If you can try to avoid texting, real human connection is what you need. Your brain gets fed from seeing other people and hearing them. By all means text someone with “Hey, have you got time for a quick chat?”, but then jump to a video call or at least a phone call.
You can start with just one connection a day and build it up from there if it works for you. If you can make 3 or 4 short (or long) chats each day that will be a big help.
Don’t let your inner narrative get in the way. It may be easy to think “She’ll be too busy”, or “He won’t want to speak to me again”, but if these relationships are worthwhile, they will be there for you and you can be there for them.
Make calling a habit. Put it on your daily to-do list or create calendar appointments to make sure it happens frequently. Do whatever works for you to make the habit stick.
If you’re working from home, maybe find out if a colleague or friend would be willing to “co-work” digitally. This simply means having a video call open whilst you both work, and can bounce ideas off of each other or have occasional chats. Personally, I’ve found this really helps my productivity.
Make your social media meaningful
We all know the negative effects social media can reap on our wellbeing. But what if our time on social media made us feel better and more connected in a meaningful way? Well, it can.
First of all, approach your social media mindful of your emotions. Unfollow anything or anyone that causes a negative emotional reaction. You don’t have to remove them, most platforms have a way to mute people so you still follow them, but don’t see their posts. It may feel harsh, but it really helps.
Secondly, actively seek out and engage in online groups that you really care about. If you’re into hiking and can’t go hiking, join a hiking group so you can still share stories and thoughts. Like cats? Join a cat group. Like baking? Join a baking group. You get the idea. Once you’re in these groups, make an effort to engage. Ask questions, answer questions, share your thoughts and stories. Once you’ve taken both of these steps your social media suddenly becomes something that makes you feel connected in a much more meaningful way.
If you find a particular platform leads to negative feelings but don’t want to get rid of it, perhaps try removing it from your phone or any device where you find you are mindlessly opening up and scrolling. Have it so you can only access the platform through a device you use less frequently.
Helping other people is a great way to make you feel more connected while at the same time adding meaning and purpose to your life. Here are just some of the ways you can help others during a pandemic:
- Get the phone numbers of the people in your street or neighbourhood and check in on them regularly to ask if they are OK or if they need help with anything.
- Connect with a local age concern group and see if you can help out by calling some elderly people who are facing social isolation during the pandemic.
- Look online to see if there are any remote volunteer opportunities. Even if you’re working from home full time, some extra hours put into volunteering can really help to connect more with others.
- For something smaller, perhaps decorate an encouraging sign to hang in your window. Knowing that you’re spreading a bit of cheer to passers by can help brighten your day too!
Do more of the things that bring you joy
When feeling lonely it’s so easy to retract into ourselves and forget about doing the things that bring us joy. What’s your thing? Walking in the countryside and enjoying the smells and sounds? Listening to a certain type of music or your go-to ‘make me happy’ playlist? Listening to funny podcasts, audiobooks, or TV shows?
If you do some of these things that usually bring joy and they don’t ‘deliver’ straight away, don’t give up and abandon the idea. It’s just your frame of mind has got a lot of inertia to get over. Make time every day to do things you enjoy and gradually you’ll start to get that feeling back again and feel less lonely.
Share how you feel
It’s really healthy to be able to share your feelings with others you trust. Sharing emotional burdens with someone else can provide a great deal of relief.
If you don’t have anyone you can trust, try joining an online community where there’s a whole bunch of people like you who are happy to hear your story and give support. Facebook’s group discovery page is a good place to start. Reddit offers another wealth of communities where you can get advice or share with others in similar situations.
These come with a warning though – although many of these communities are positive, you may still be exposed to negative people, viewpoints or even abuse. It may be wise to stay away if you feel a negative encounter could derail your mental health. Remember the tip above – if a community or platform is causing negative feelings, remove it.
Work on your mental fitness
Having sub-optimal mental fitness is known to increase the negative feelings of isolation and loneliness. The Akimbo app is a great way to improve your mental fitness and you can get it for free here. Even just 10 minutes of daily training will help. Why not give it a try?
Find out more about the science behind Akimbo here.
So just remember, being lonely is completely normal and it won’t last forever. Hopefully some of these ideas for overcoming social isolation during the pandemic can provide coping mechanisms and help you to get through this.
Take care of yourself and remember you can always connect with us here!