10 Ways to Fight Loneliness While Sheltering at Home

With 95 percent of Americans ordered to shelter in place, many of us have found ourselves trudging through new levels of loneliness. It’s a strange paradox that one of the most globally impactful events in our lifetime, rather than bring us together, could force us to be our most isolated. Yet, here we are, taking each day as it comes, doing our best to keep ourselves and one another safe. Part of this effort should be taking care of our mental health, finding ways to ease our anxiety and cope with feeling lonely. Here are 10 powerful and effective ways to feel more resilient in the face of loneliness.

Give yourself time to feel your full sadness – First of all, this is an undoubtedly painful time. Some of us know or have lost someone who’s struggled with this disease. Many of us are fearful for ourselves and for our loved ones. And likely, all of us are missing the people we’re used to spending time with. While we may be telling ourselves to “keep calm and carry on” for fear of being overcome by emotion, we shouldn’t try to bury or avoid our sadness.

Sadness can be a vital, primary emotion. Allowing ourselves to feel it fully can be like letting a wave rise and fall within us. And like the sea itself, we tend to become calmer and more settled once we’ve allowed the wave to pass. Although, it can feel scary to invite an intense emotion to surface, it can also be a great relief, and it can help keep our emotions from spilling out in misplaced ways. As we navigate this strange time, we should give ourselves the space we need to feel sad when we need it. Sadness tends to center us in ourselves.

2. Get out of your head – In part 1 of this blog I wrote about a “critical inner voice” we all possess that pounces on us when we’re struggling and turns against us in the face of challenges. This “voice” has a tendency to get louder when we’re alone and in our heads, criticizing and evaluating us in harsh ways. It also encourages us to think no one cares about us or wants to hear from us.

Getting to know this inner critic and noticing when it pops up can help us take control of how we feel. We must then challenge its destructive messaging and refuse to follow its terrible advice. In other words, we shouldn’t allow our “voices” to manipulate our behavior, whether they’re encouraging us to indulge in unhealthy habits or telling us to avoid reaching out to a friend. Developing more self-compassion, treating ourselves as we would a good friend is an important antidote to the critical inner voice. What would you say to a friend who was struggling or needed support? Using this standard as a benchmark can be helpful in developing a better relationship with yourself.

3. Reach out – Simplistic as it sounds, we must remember to KEEP connecting. It’s way too easy to get into a routine of being alone and self-contained and to fall out of the routine of reaching out. Make appointments to meet virtually, so time doesn’t slip by. Reach out to old friends and maintain consistent contact with the people you saw regularly. Text and email, but try to make sure you also call, Zoom, or FaceTime. Seeing and hearing someone provides a completely different sensory experience that can change our outlook, lift our spirits, and ease our loneliness

4. Open up about how you’re feeling – When we do connect with loved ones, we should not hold back. Share what you’re going through, exposing any struggles you’re facing. Being open and personal is not a burden and will only bring you closer. It will also let your friend know that it’s okay to be vulnerable and encourage them to open up to you. Several people I work with have described feeling less lonely since the pandemic started, specifically because they’re taking more time for real and consistent contact with caring people in their lives.

5. Be generous – One of the most healing ways to get out of our own heads is to think of what we can offer others. Take time to check in on those around you. Ask friends, family, and coworkers how they’re doing and really listen to what they say. Make a conscious effort to offer them time and space to talk about themselves. In addition to reaching out, we can donate or find ways to safely volunteer. One friend of mine is sewing masks for healthcare workers. Another is offering low-cost therapy online. All of these selfless tasks have the personal benefit of providing a sense of meaning and connectedness.

6. Keep a gratitude journal – One feeling many of us are experiencing at peak levels is gratitude. We are deeply aware of the value of people, places, and interactions that we recently took for granted. Keeping a daily journal, in which we express appreciation, helps keep us tied to what matters to us and focused on the positive and rewarding aspects of our day.

7. Stay present – In the face of unprecedented levels of uncertainty, now is the time to embrace the mindfulness principle of not living in the past or catastrophizing about the future. The only moment we can truly experience is the one we’re in. Each day, we can try to connect to what we’re experiencing through meditation, breathing, or a simple practice of noticing any sensations, images, feelings, or thoughts we’re having. We may appreciate the warmth of our home, the sound of a loved one’s voice, the color of a nearby blossom, or the taste of our cup of tea. Staying in the moment can help us gain a sense of calm and add value to our experience.

8. Practice Self-Compassion – No matter what we’re going through, we should remember to be a friend to ourselves. Self-compassion comprises three elements: self-kindness, mindfulness, and common humanity. It involves treating ourselves without judgment, evaluation, or comparison and seeing our suffering as part of a common human experience. Keep in mind that we are all going through this together. We are all going to struggle, and we can give ourselves permission to treat ourselves kindly as we get through this together.

9. Join an Online Workout – Exercise is a hugely beneficial and natural way to lift our spirits. Many studios and fitness centers are offering classes online. Attending a live class via a screen may feel a bit unusual at first, but there’s something about sharing the same movement at the same moment with other people or even just an instructor that can inspire a feeling of connection. Yoga classes can be especially rewarding, as they help cultivate a sense of calm and presence.

10. Try Virtual therapy – Thankfully, we live in an age when many mental health professionals offer remote services online. Finding a therapist is much easier than many people think. If you’re struggling, feeling intense stress, anxiety, or depression, or just having a hard time feeling yourself, now could be a perfect time to connect with a therapist. Getting the help you need is an act of strength and can truly help anyone through this difficult time. You can search for a telehealth therapist here.

About the Author

Lisa Firestone, Ph.D. Dr. Lisa Firestone is the Director of Research and Education at The Glendon Association. An accomplished and much requested lecturer, Dr. Firestone speaks at national and international conferences in the areas of couple relations, parenting, and suicide and violence prevention. Dr. Firestone has published numerous professional articles, and most recently was the co-author of Sex and Love in Intimate Relationships (APA Books, 2006), Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice (New Harbinger, 2002), Creating a Life of Meaning and Compassion: The Wisdom of Psychotherapy (APA Books, 2003) and The Self Under Siege (Routledge, 2012). Follow Dr. Firestone on Twitter or Google.

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