Expert tips for managing loneliness during COVID-19 pandemic
Cheryl Lythgoe, Society Matron at Benenden Health, shares four tips on managing loneliness during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As social distancing in the UK largely continues, the government still advises that we stay home when we can and so our usual ways of seeing family and friends remain on hold.
It is not unusual to feel lonely at times, but it is possible that these feelings have been exacerbated since social distancing measures were introduced. Long-term loneliness can be associated with increased risk of certain mental health issues including depression, anxiety, stress, and dementia and physical health impacts like increased risk of heart disease, making the impacts of long-term loneliness difficult to manage.
Research carried out by Benenden Health found that a third of people have seen their mental wellbeing worsen because of the pandemic, highlighting the importance of looking after ourselves and finding ways to manage feelings of angst and loneliness.
Four tips to managing feelings of loneliness during the pandemic
1. Keep in touch with loved ones
To counteract these feelings, it is important to keep in touch with loved ones - whether through regular video calls, a WhatsApp group chat or even sending cards or letters to your friends to let them know you’re thinking of them.
If you usually have a bustling social calendar, you may be struggling with this quieter lifestyle, but you can still enjoy time with friends. Keep up your social routine where possible – take your weekly lunch catch up with your friend online by getting dressed up, make a nice lunch, and have a video call instead. Or if you are normally a bit of a night owl, plan a quiz and a glass of your favourite tipple to enjoy a virtual evening with friends.
If you are not as tech savvy, then regular phone calls and text messages are a good way to check in with your friends too. If you feel comfortable doing so, you could now also meet up to 6 people in the local park or your garden while maintaining your social distance if you live in England.
Sometimes it is nice to see a familiar face, even if it is from two metres away!
2. Plan your day and set yourself a to do list
It is very important to try to keep your usual routine where possible so try to get yourself up and dressed at the normal time – this will help you mentally prepare for a productive day.
To prevent sitting and letting yourself get down about being on your own, it may be useful to have a plan for each day. It needn’t be a regimented minute-by-minute list but having some ‘to-do’ tasks could help you manage feelings of loneliness by providing more structure to your weeks. If you are on your own because someone you live with is still going out to work each day, then being organised in this way can help you to keep busy and active while they are not around and you may find you can enjoy your quality time with them more too. There is also something very satisfying about ticking jobs off a to-do list!
Creating a weekly menu and sticking to your mealtime routine could also be beneficial to maintaining some normality and tackling feelings of loneliness brought about by this difficult time. This will also help to make your food shop more efficient if you are trying to keep supermarket trips to a minimum.
3. Help others if you can
If you would not consider yourself ‘high risk’, you may wish to help someone else in your community who might be feeling lonely or is shielding.
You could try to get in touch with someone who you know lives alone by sending them a short message, a phone call, or a putting a kind note through the door. This could make a big difference to someone who has not heard from anyone in a while. You could even just give them a ring before you go shopping to see if they need anything or pick up an extra pint of milk to leave on their doorstep.
If you know someone who struggles with technology, you may be able to talk them through setting up Zoom or FaceTime at home – explaining it to them from a safe distance – helping them to reach their loved ones too.
4. Take some ‘me time’ and focus on your own wellbeing
Crucially, it’s about finding something that enables you to relax and feel more positive but remember that what works for someone else, may not work for you. Some people may be enjoying this time to go running, do HIIT workouts in the garden or take part in virtual yoga sessions, but there is also no shame in relaxing and watching a few episodes of your favourite TV show.
Taking time out to ‘live in the moment’ and appreciate your surroundings can help to reduce stress and ease feelings of worry and anxiety about what is going on.
Reading and puzzles not only provide a good distraction, but they can also help to boost brain power and keep your mind working which can help to ease feelings of anxiety too. So why not pick up that book you’ve been saying you’d read for months? Or spend a little longer doing that newspaper crossword? If you’re craving social contact ring a family member, colleague or friend to help with the more challenging questions.
It is important that you do not put too much pressure on yourself and instead try to spend this time to do things that you enjoy.
The nature of this pandemic is constantly changing and as lockdown measures are eased further, more people will be returning to work and children will be returning to school. These changes may lead to feelings of loneliness creeping in if it feels like other people are returning to normality while you can’t - especially individuals who must continue shielding - so these steps could be crucial to help manage any negative feelings at this time.
It is important to keep in mind that you are not alone in this. There will be hugs, shared pots of tea and celebrations in the future but for now, try to take each day as it comes and focus on yourself.
For more help on and support with coronavirus concerns, please visit our COVID-19 health and wellbeing hub.