There’s no sugarcoating it: it’s a stressful time to be alive.
Every time we glance at the TV, scroll our social media feeds, or even check our emails, we're seeing constant reminders of the global pandemic. After spending a year in isolation and lockdown, it’s no wonder that everyone’s anxiety is at an all-time high!
If there’s one thing we can all take away from the pandemic, it’s the importance of learning how to be your own best friend — so that you can thrive even when the world is upside-down.
How social isolation affects your health
Coronavirus was the viral pandemic that rocked our world, and loneliness was the silent pandemic.
The risks are serious: prolonged isolation can develop into bigger mental health problems, like anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts, as well as physical health problems, like increased blood pressure, weaker immune systems, and more inflammation throughout the body.
So, maintaining social connection not only makes our lives more interesting - it’s also essential for our survival. That’s why it’s important to be proactive and get ahead of your loneliness before your health takes a hit.
To fight loneliness and isolation, here are 12 things you can do today that’ll help you feel less blue.
12 Ways to Cope With Loneliness
1. Validate your feelings.
It can feel unnerving to be vulnerable and tell others that you’re feeling lonely. However, denying your loneliness only makes it worse. Acknowledging your loneliness can be the beginning of releasing it!
You aren't alone in feeling lonely, either — loneliness is felt most intensely by young people aged 16-24. 40 percent of young people reported feeling lonely often or very often, compared with 27 percent of the over-75s. It’s very possible that your friend might be feeling the exact same way, and you might form a closer bond as a result.
2. Think of all the connections you already have.
Especially when we’re feeling stressed out, it’s hard to see what’s right in front of us. Many of us get tunnel vision in our friendships and relationships, meaning that we only notice certain behaviors while dismissing others. You might notice that one friend doesn’t comment on your Instagram posts, but you might overlook the fact that she always gives you a ride home after school.
When you expand your definitions of affection and connection, you may realize that you aren’t as deprived as you originally thought.
3. Get curious about your loneliness.
Loneliness looks different for everyone.
For instance, introverts tend to do better with more alone time than extroverts. An introvert may prefer to stay home and read a book, whereas an extrovert would rather go out with their friends.
Situational vs. chronic loneliness
It’s also important to differentiate between different types of loneliness.
Situational loneliness comes from a unique change in circumstances that makes it difficult to develop or maintain friendships. Most people are experiencing situational loneliness due to social isolation measures.
Chronic loneliness is experienced over a long period of time. It's characterized by constant and unrelenting feelings of being alone, separated or divided from others, and an inability to connect on a deeper level. It can also be accompanied by deeply rooted feelings of inadequacy, poor self-esteem, and self-loathing.
To explore your loneliness on a deeper level, ask yourself the following questions:
Do I feel disconnected because of a change in my friendships or relationships?
Have I done my fair share of keeping up with friends?
Have I tried to socialize with new friends?
Am I intentionally or accidentally isolating myself?
4. Slow down.
If you’re running yourself ragged with a to-do list that’s a mile long, it might be time to hit the brakes. When you don’t take time for yourself, you start disconnecting from other people — and possibly even from yourself.
Try scheduling in some “me” time, whether that means a walk through the neighborhood park, writing in your journal, or attending a live music event. You'll come away feeling rejuvenated.
5. Reconnect with yourself.
Here's the truth: The longest relationship you'll ever have in the history of your life is the one you have with yourself.
That means that we all need to learn to be our own best friend! When you're your own best friend, you're able to take care of your own needs, treat yourself kindly, and love yourself unconditionally.
Social isolation creates lots of time for solitude. Use these quiet moments to reflect and introspect. Think of your alone time as time spent getting to know your best friend.
6. Look for ways to connect with others.
Especially after you’ve felt lonely for a long time, it can feel daunting to get back into the flow of socializing freely. So, you can start small by going out into the world and actively looking for ways to connect:
- Pick up the phone and call a relative
- Have a conversation with the ice cream shop owner about their new seasonal flavors
- Knock on your next-door neighbor’s door and ask to take a walk around the block together
- Ask to pet the next friendly dog that you see walking down the street
- Wave hello to someone whom you have yet to be friends with at school
As a bonus, being nice and friendly releases oxytocin, the bonding hormone that helps boost your mood and emotions. Who doesn't need more oxytocin during times like these?
7. Volunteer for a cause that’s close to your heart.
When you focus on others rather than yourself, you can create new, meaningful relationships. The options are endless; you can volunteer to clean up outdoor spaces, to care for cats and dogs at an animal shelter, or even to assist at a blood drive. It takes work to build a social network, but it’s a lot easier when you’re working alongside people who share your passion.
8. Pump the brakes on your social media usage.
The correlation between social media usage and poorer mental health outcomes are well-documented. When we feel lonely or isolated, it’s natural to retreat into the world of social media. However, social media platforms are designed to be addictive; every “like” and “comment” releases more and more dopamine.
It may not be realistic to go completely off the grid, but be honest with yourself:
Are you using it to make meaningful connections?
Are you spending too much time on it?
Is it causing you to become more socially withdrawn?
If you find that your social media usage is making you feel even more lonely, it might be time for a temporary screen detox.
9. Hop on a video chat.
Keeping in contact with other human beings is the most important thing you can do to fight loneliness.
Instead of mindlessly scrolling through your feed, try a better substitution for real socialization: a live video chat can do wonders for curing your loneliness! Schedule daily or weekly calls so that you have something to look forward to. (There’s even an app called Houseparty that allows you to video chat and play games with your friends in real time!)
10. Reconnect with Mother Nature.
A simple and easy resource that we often overlook is the natural, physical world around us. Spending time in nature has countless proven benefits for your mental and emotional health:
- Promotes calmness
- Reduces nervous system arousal
- Lowers blood pressure and stress hormone levels
- Enhances immune system function
- Increases self-esteem
- Increases creativity
- Reduces anxiety
- Improves mood
When you immerse yourself in a natural setting, put away your phone and give yourself time to think, you’ll have more mental space to process the issues that you’ve been holding at bay. You’ll also have the chance to clarify your thoughts, hopes, dreams, and desires. Think of it as quality time with yourself — and the better your relationship with yourself, the less lonely you’ll feel.
11. Be kind to yourself.
With more free time on your hands, you might feel pressured to be uber-productive. Especially if you spend a lot of time alone, you may find yourself filling up blocks of time with webinars, online courses, and workouts.
However, it’s good to give yourself permission to stop worrying about being productive for a while. If we don't give ourselves a break in the midst of a global pandemic then when are we going to?
Of course, we want to continue being productive and moving forward in life. But on occasion, it’s okay to schedule in some downtime instead of pressuring yourself to live the perfect confinement life. That could mean:
- Taking breaks to stand up, stretch, and walk around throughout the day
- Going on long walks in the park because you find them calming
- Cooking your favorite meal or dessert
- FaceTiming your friends and family every other day
12. Turn up the sound.
If you’ve spent the lockdown on your own, you’ve probably dealt with a lot of silence. It’s already difficult to go weeks on end without interacting with your friends in person, with not much to look forward to in the evenings and weekends. It’s even more difficult when you’re sitting in silence and you only have your mind for company.
The next time you feel like things are a little too quiet, try seeing if you feel more comfortable with something turned on in the background, whether that’s:
- Music, which can boost your mood and motivate you
- Audiobooks, which might provide distraction and a temporary escape
- Podcasts, which inform and entertain while helping you feel connected to the speakers
- Your favorite TV show, which can break the silence in a comforting way
- Ambient noise from outside your window, which can help you feel connected to the outside world
A Word From A Brighter Day
Anxiety and depression are just some of the most destructive effects of long-term loneliness.
If you’re experiencing dark thoughts, developing unhealthy coping mechanisms, or feeling overwhelmed with sadness, it might be time to take a step back and reach out for help. You can do this by opening up to a trusted loved one, or by seeking professional help through therapy and counseling.
Remember that you aren’t the only one dealing with loneliness, and with extra support, you’ll be able to get through this!