Loneliness in Lockdown: 6 Tips to Help

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Loneliness in Lockdown: 6 Tips to Help You to Deal With the Struggle

Fresh advice from a chartered psychologist

lonely lockdown    women's health uk
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Whether you’re riding out Tier 4 as a party of one, or your household is approaching a commune, there’s a chance you’re one of the many people across the country experiencing loneliness at the minute.

A 2020 study conducted by researchers at the University of Essex found that 34% of women are 'sometimes suffering from lockdown loneliness,' whilst 11% felt lonely 'often'. This Autumn, Women's Health asked you, our readers, about how you were handling the pandemic. Over 2,000 of you responded. Of these, 79% said they feel lonelier now than before this sorry mess kicked off.

To find out more about the mechanisms behind your feelings, plus advice on how you might overcome it, Women’s Health spoke to Dr Audrey Tang, chartered psychologist and author of The Leader’s Guide to Mindfulness.

What is loneliness?

With the coronavirus lockdown ongoing, many of us will be physically isolated right now. But what exactly is the difference between loneliness and isolation?

‘Loneliness is a feeling of sadness,’ says Dr Tang. ‘It’s not to be confused with isolation, which is where you can objectively count the number of meaningful contacts someone has – whether that’s online or in their household, in the wake of COVID-19’.

So while isolation may be enforced at the moment, loneliness is not necessarily a given. ‘It is a feeling of lacking, or perhaps loss of, companionship. You would not be “isolated” in a crowded room, but you can certainly feel lonely.’

Why might you be feeling lonely in lockdown?

At this point, it's entirely possible that you've lost any zeal for Zoom quizzes. And, even when you did pencil in various video-based forms of socialising, they doubtless didn't hit quite the same as lengthy catch-up dinners.

‘As social media comes into its own as a means for keeping in contact, many of us still miss the joy of in-person connection. Connecting face to face with a hug or a smile releases the hormone oxytocin, which makes us feel pleasantly happy,’ explains Dr Tang. ‘While the same can happen through a picture or an online call, it's not as powerful.’

And despite the internet’s power to forge new friendships with the touch of a button (or the clack of a few keys), this might not be enough to ensure BFF status in the short term.

‘In some cases, where loneliness might be eased through a deeper friendship connection, it often takes time to develop that relationship,’ says Dr Tang. ‘This causes problems when we are social distancing, because we don't have that face-to-face time, even if speaking online.’

What’s more, though we might be nailing the Whatsapp group interactions, not all of us are used to communicating that way. ‘Without being face-to-face to explain, or correct or sense others’ responses, we may withhold our feelings.’


7 tips to help you feel less lonely

1. Reach out

It goes without saying that reaching out to family and friends is a good place to start.

‘Once you acknowledge that you are feeling lonely, try and work out what it is you are missing,’ says Dr Tang. Is it your coffee breaks with colleagues? Or your family members dropping in on the reg?

Try to recreate these experiences as much as possible, whether that’s setting up Zoom tea breaks or initiating old-fashioned text conversations – whatever you can do to let your loved ones know how you’re feeling.

2. Look after your physical health

Getting your blood pumping is a good way to give your mental health a boost, whatever the circumstances. As well as fitting some daily movement into your routine, eating well and getting enough sleep are both key to feeling as well as you can.

‘Remember that your physical health can affect your mental wellbeing,’ says Dr Tang. ‘Exercise can help clear your mind, while under-eating or a lack of sleep can result in a lack of ability to focus or increased feelings of anxiety.’

So while a walk in the park (or the garden) or a well-balanced meal might not be a magic cure, looking after yourself as much as possible is a solid step towards feeling better.

3. Make your living environment positive

With most non-key workers spending the majority of their days between the same four walls, making that environment as positive as possible will benefit your mental health in the short and long run.

‘Keep photos of the people you love or things that give you feelings of comfort, in the place in which you like to spend time,’ suggests Dr Tang. ‘This can at least help you feel good, even if you’re alone.’

If that means filling your space with pictures of your family's labrador, then so be it – self-care is health care, after all.

4. Make plans for the future

We may not know when the latest set of measures will be lifted, but planning an occasion for the future can give you something to look forward to – whether it’s heading back to your favourite ramen place with your best friend, or simply scheduling in a video chat dinner date for next week.

‘If you are missing someone specific, make plans to see them at a later point,’ says Dr Tang. You’ll have something to look forward to, while you focus on what you can do for the meantime.

5. Join an online class or course

You are very much not obliged to become the 21st century’s Shakespeare in lockdown, but if discovering a new skill or indulging old hobbies is something that will help you feel better, now is the time to try it.

Creative writing? Coding? Brushing up on your A-Level Spanish? There are plenty of options to embrace and even get a qualification while you’re at it.

As well as fostering your new talent, an online class could help expand your network and meet others who will share your interests. ‘You may meet like-minded people where you know it will be possible to connect on some topics of conversation,’ says Dr Tang. New friends and a fresh skill? Score.

6. Volunteer if you can

If you’ve been furloughed, are out of work, or simply have some time on your hands, there are volunteer networks popping up across all areas of the country, as people rally together to help others in need.

Joining one of these groups can lead to new connections with fellow volunteers in your community, while giving back can help you feel fulfilled and give your mental health a boost.

Find your nearest group, via the Covid-19 Mutual Aid UK website.


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