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How to Deal with Loneliness While Social Distancing

Tips and advice from someone who’s been there, done that

lonely woman hugging herself illustration

The first time I moved to a new city for a job, I lived alone, and the loneliness I felt was almost unbearable. When I talked to friends on the phone, I told them how much I missed hugs—really, really good hugs from someone who cares about you. Physical touch is so important to human connection.

Of course, if you’re living alone during the coronavirus pandemic, then you probably haven’t talked to many people, and you definitely haven’t hugged anyone. That social contact is vital to your mental health, and going without it can bog you down enough to impact your work. You might feel distracted or disengaged, depressed, on edge, paranoid, or exhausted all the time. Unfortunately, that’s all normal.

My situation wasn’t nearly as confined as everyone’s is now, but I did find a few ways to manage loneliness on my own, and I’ll detail those below; however, you can also reach out to a telemedicine provider to schedule a therapy session or two. Loneliness can lead to more serious mental health disorders, and there’s nothing wrong with admitting you want or need to talk to someone. 

Read more: 6 Ways to Care for Mental & Emotional Health During the Coronavirus Outbreak

1. Call someone

You’ve heard this advice a thousand times now because of COVID-19, but it’s worth repeating. Schedule times to catch up with friends, or ask coworkers to book quick coffee chats to hear about their lives. You don’t have to talk about the pandemic. Instead, swap stories about what podcasts you’re listening to or shows you’re watching. My coworker Sunny recommended I watch a documentary she’d just finished, and we spent the entirety of our next video chat talking about it. We joked about how we were both glad I’d done my homework for the meeting. You can still share experiences with people even if you’re not seeing them in person.

2. Take a shower

Did you know lonely people take more and hotter showers and baths than others? Yes, that’s true. Research from Yale University found that people use physical warmth to substitute for social connection; they also stay in the shower longer.

I didn’t know this when I lived on my own, but I did take a lot of showers—a lot. Sometimes twice a day. I’m not recommending you run up your water bill that much, but at least consider breaking up your loneliness with a physical change. Go for a walk or jog in place. Turn your music up and dance around your apartment. You can’t always control when people are available to talk to you throughout the day, but you can shimmy yourself out of the doldrums. ABBA helps.

3. Make plans

I know, you’re laughing because everyone’s plans have been canceled for the foreseeable future. We don’t even celebrate birthdays anymore. But making plans for yourself, even in quarantine, is a good way to keep from dwelling on your loneliness. Tune into an online cooking class or workout session. Create a list of movies you’ve never seen and mark them off as you go. Take a 30-minute walk during lunch. Lonely me grew to love the concept of “dating” myself—basically, doing a date-like activity on your own. You really can order pizza and watch all eight of the Harry Potter movies if you want to. You have that power.

Read more: A Few Good Things: What We’re Reading & Watching to Stay Positive During the COVID-19 Pandemic

4. Name the thing

So often, loneliness goes unsaid, so we feel like we’re the only ones experiencing it, like everyone else is doing a much better job at coping with coronavirus and social distancing. That’s not true. (Although some people are, and we hate them. Kidding, kidding.) Just because people aren’t telling you they’re lonely or stir crazy doesn’t mean they’re not feeling the same way as you are. People cope in different ways, but some feelings are unfailingly human. Loneliness is one of them. 

What helped me to understand this was when a friend of mine told me she felt lonely, then we talked about why and what steps she could take to manage those feelings. Sometimes naming our emotions, even in a way that feels awkward or breaks social norms, allows us to navigate them. You can do that in a journal, aloud to yourself while you’re chopping up vegetables, or to a friend.

5. Understand this is temporary

Emotions like loneliness feel big, vast even, but we aren’t sitting beneath a wide and starry sky of feelings. We’re dealing with a temporary emotion in a temporary pandemic. Try pinpointing the start and endpoints of your loneliness. Then write them down and start looking for a pattern: I started feeling lonely when I saw people posting on Twitter about meeting for Zoom happy hours. I stopped feeling lonely when I listened to a podcast while doing the dishes.

You’re not looking for “loneliness triggers,” but rather, times when you’ve clearly not felt lonely to remind yourself that most feelings are finite—just like this pandemic. It will end, and you will socialize again. Until then, virtual hugs all around.

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By Beth Castle

Managing Editor, InHerSight

Beth Castle is on staff at InHerSight, where she writes about workplace rights, diversity and inclusion, allyship, and feminism. Her bylines include Fast Company, Charlotte magazine, The Charlotte Observer, SouthPark magazine, Southbound magazine, and Atlanta magazine. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

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