Tips to prevent loneliness during the pandemic
Healthy relationships are known to be key for our mental well-being.
A well-cited, 80-year study by Harvard researchers found that “our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health,”. Further research shows that people who engage in supportive, positive relationships produce more oxytocin, which can boost our immune systems, allow us to physically heal quicker, and mean we are less likely to experience the negative effects of stress, anxiety, and depression.
In this unprecedented time however, with vast swathes of the world’s population under some form of lockdown or self-isolation, we find ourselves unable to be physically close to many of those we enjoy spending time with.
It’s natural to feel uneasy (to say the least) about the sudden, strange upheaval to regular life as we know it. Unsuprisingly, social research has already found that depression and anxiety levels rose in the UK following the government’s lockdown announcement, an example of difficult feelings that are being shared around the world.
Here are ways to stay connected during this novel time, even when we are temporarily distancing ourselves from the outside world:
1. Use tech to keep in touch
Pre-social distancing, technology was often blamed for making us feel more socially isolated; but we can also use it to build the sense of real-life community that we likely miss at the moment. Try ensuring that you speak to someone who makes you feel uplifted on the phone or via video call every day. You can arrange to share meals, play online games, or have creative sessions with loved ones via video call using apps like Zoom or Houseparty. We can even host virtual dinner parties by eating meals at the same time as those we miss; or have virtual book or movie clubs — where you decide on or discuss a book you are all reading, or film you’ve watched, on fortnightly or monthly calls. I recently played fun trivia games remotely with a group of pals around the world using Zoom and Jackbox TV online.
Social media self-isolation support groups (globally on Facebook, locally on Nextdoor, or you can make your own using Whatsapp) are popping up to help members stay positive with humor; share novel ideas on using isolation time productively; movie and box-set advice; to spread useful information and updates. These groups can help us to pool resources and knowledge; share how we feel; and hopefully find the support we need.
2. Proactively support others
As well as contacting those we trust and feel positive around when we are struggling ourselves, reaching out to those who might be feeling alone, anxious or overwhelmed, can also help us get through hard times together. Every morning when you wake up, try to think of two people you could check in on that day, with a message, call or supportive voice note to see how they are doing.
Helping others is also known to help boost our own mental well-being, and can give us a new sense of purpose when we are feeling down. Supporting small businesses (like when choosing online exercise instructors, or buying food from local independent grocers) can help those struggling with low in-person footfall. We can donate to food banks, homeless shelters, services for the elderly or appeals like the UK’s National Emergencies Trust, and volunteer to help the NHS transport supplies or make check-in calls to those most in need.
3. Get along better with your housemates
If you live with other people, keep in mind that we all deal with stress differently, and all have “up” and “down” days. In general, taking a few breaths before we react to someone else’s emotionally triggering behavior, and being open about how we feel and our needs — perhaps using the “ Nonviolent Communication “ method — rather than letting resentment build up, can help deepen mutual compassion and understanding.
This recent Freakonomics podcast episode discusses the effects of the pandemic on urban populations and marriages. Acclaimed relationship therapist Esther Perel is also sharing a four-part “love under lock down” series on her YouTube channel, and Tim Ferriss’ recent podcast episode interview with her is packed with useful coping strategies. There is more practical advice for isolating with your family in this LBC Radio interview transcript.
4. Learn to self-soothe
It is also important to learn to look after our own emotional well-being as much as we can — this could be a good time to practice. It can help to make sure we do something we really enjoy every day (whether that’s dancing, singing, reading a good book or having a relaxing bath); keep on top of our sleep; exercise regularly; eat healthily and take breaks from technology. Journalling is a great way to understand, process and document our feelings, as is meditation; and listening to relaxing music (this is my favorite calming track right now) and spending time in nature (even with a house plant) is also known to boost our mood.
I have also written this guide to surviving self-isolation according to your love language. If you miss physical contact, for example: give yourself or your pillow a hug; stroke your face, shoulders and arms; or apply lotion to your body to soothe yourself before you go to sleep each night.
You can find other resources to cope better curated by Mind: Unlocked here, and the NHS has also published useful information on “ Mental wellbeing while staying at home “. Note to always seek the help of a medical professional, trained counselor or psychotherapist if you feel unable to cope with persistent negative feelings.
5. Know this is also bringing the world together
Research has found that shared challenges can bring people emotionally closer together. Although we might feel alone, this is also one of the most intense and novel shared experiences on a local, national and global level in generations. International governments are even working together to share information and resources with the World Health Organiszation.
Perhaps we will connect more deeply with each other, if we feel able to open up and understand the shake-up we are all facing as human beings — to varying degrees, but together. Many of us might feel like we are able to have deeper conversations with our communities and support those in need now more than ever, as a result of our current state of shared vulnerability.
Jessica Warren is co-founder of Mind: Unlocked — a mental well-being business that provides practical tools, courses and workshops to help people cope with the stress of everyday modern life. She has been featured as a wellness speaker on BBC Radio and at conferences like Wanderlust and Eurekafest; and writes for Thrive Global, Economia Magazine, and the StartUp and P.S. I Love You publications on Medium.
Originally published at https://thriveglobal.com.