The idea of escaping the office and hunkering down at home might sound appealing at first, but the stark reality of spending so much time alone can end up taking a toll on our mental health.
Social interaction is a basic, fundamental human need – it’s vital for our sense of wellbeing. When we limit social interaction – either through social distancing or self-isolation – we’re likely to feel the effects on our mood.
So with many of us now facing spells in isolation, it’s extra important that we take steps to look after our wellbeing during this time (emotionally, mentally and physically).
Isolation and loneliness – are they the same thing?
No, and there’s an important difference. Isolation is the physical experience of separation whereas loneliness is the emotional state of feeling separate and disconnected from others.
This means that you don’t have to be alone in order to feel lonely. In fact, it’s thought that around 60% of lonely people are married. That’s because loneliness isn’t dependent on how many friends you have but rather the quality of those relationships. It’s about feeling heard and understood.
Simply put, loneliness is the absence of feeling connected.
Why do we feel lonely?
As human beings, we’re tribal by nature. Back in the day, being connected to the tribe was key to survival. Without social bonds, we faced almost certain death. The need to connect is so strong that loneliness – experienced over a long period of time – actually triggers the body’s stress response.
Because of this, persistent loneliness can wreak havoc on our health. Our blood pressure increases, our immunity goes down, we sleep less, and our risk of cardiovascular disease increases. We’re also much more likely to experience mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
Everyone will experience pangs of loneliness at some point in their life. Perhaps it’s not making the invite list for a friend’s wedding or yearning for a deeper connection with your partner…
But this kind of loneliness is temporary – it passes. Loneliness becomes dangerous when it lasts for an extended period of time.
Whether you’re self-isolating alone, with family, friends or a partner, it’s normal to be feeling lonely. There are all kinds of small interactions we don’t even think about in normal everyday life which give us a sense of connection e.g. buying a coffee, going to the gym… This is a completely new experience for all of us, and it’s only natural that we might experience a wide range of emotions whilst we’re living in a very isolated way.
However, it’s also really important to take action when you feel this way. It’s about actively finding points of connection through your day-to-day so this feeling doesn’t stick around. Here are some tips for doing just that:
Maintain connection with friends and family as much as you can – whether it’s WhatApp, Facetime, Houseparty, Instagram… Whilst you’re not able to hang out with your friends and family in-person, make sure you’re keeping up communication by phone or online. You can even do a “dinner party” or “pub night” from your living room. Don’t be afraid to mix it up.
Structure structure structure – now’s the time to create a schedule if you haven’t had one before. Sectioning your day up is going to help you break up the day. (8.30am – 10 mins journaling in bed, 8.45am – home yoga, 9.15am – breakfast, 10am – watching TED talks etc.)
If you’re working from home, connect with colleagues – find points of connection with your team as well as your friends and family. Keep up communication by video conferencing, regular check-ins and instant messaging on Slack. If your organisation isn’t taking the initiative, then buddy up with a colleague.
Join an online community – connect with people who have similar interests to you e.g. virtual book clubs, online forums, Facebook groups etc.
Learn something new – learn a language, try a new musical instrument, take a virtual museum tour, listen to podcasts on subjects that interest you…
Start meditating – take this as an opportunity to turn inwards and get to know yourself better. Practising mindfulness has so many benefits (lower stress levels, better sleep, increased concentration) and it will also help you stay grounded with everything that’s happening at the moment.
Create a self-soothing kit for when you feel anxious or lonely – run a long bath, cuddle up with your pet, cook a new delicious recipe, light some candles, make a soothing cup of herbal tea…
Write a bucket list with everything you’re going to do after this – self-isolation puts everything into perspective. Use this time to think about what you might do differently when things return back to normal again. What goals do you want to achieve? Where do you want to travel to?
Keep active from home – so many classes have been moved online which means there’s no excuse not to keep up the yoga and gym classes from the comfort of your home (remember those endorphins!)
Rule number one is: don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Remember that everyone is in the same situation at the moment – we’re all looking to connect.
Next time the loneliness hits, simply acknowledge it and take it as your body’s way of reminding you to connect again.
However, if you feel like you’re struggling to shake it off and you find yourself feeling this way for a long period of time, please do reach out for support. Online therapy provides a safe space to talk about how you’re feeling and your therapist will help you create a plan for how to manage difficult feelings when they come up – from the comfort of your home.
Remember, we’re all in this together.