Loneliness is not a new problem. In a 2016 survey, over 9 million people in the UK – almost a fifth of the population – said they are always or often lonely, but almost two thirds felt uncomfortable admitting to it. However, the weeks of lockdown and prospect of continued physical distancing measures in place for months to come has bought the issue of loneliness to the fore, and made the experience an unignorable reality for many people.
Yesterday it was made clear that lockdown measures will be eased, but one in five people found themselves alone when the lockdown began, and self-isolation could be an ongoing necessity for certain vulnerable groups for some time. What’s more, it’s likely that a variety of physical distancing recommendations will limit our capacity to connect with others until the end of 2020.
But it isn’t only the physical distance from others that can make us feel lonely. Even if we have shared lockdown with other people, we might feel alienated from them (for instance, if we don’t get along with our housemates or family), or we may be used to spending our time with a large circle of extended family and friends and find the relative sparsity of company hard to adjust to.
Loneliness is perhaps one of the most difficult emotions we can face, and when these feelings become overwhelming, they can have a truly profound impact on both our mental and physical health – especially in older adults. As it is vital that we abide by distancing guidelines in order to limit the spread of COVID-19 and save lives, finding other ways to relieve loneliness will be a key part of making sure our wellbeing isn’t too badly impacted during this difficult time.
Remember to meditate
There really isn’t a better time to start meditating than in these strained circumstances, and if you already meditate regularly, try your best to keep it up as a consistent habit. The practice of meditation can help us cope with feelings of loneliness in a variety of ways – from helping us to break out of negative thought patterns by inserting a profound pause into our day, to relieving feelings of depression. And while it may sound a little airy-fairy to the more practically minded among you, it can also be a powerful way to foster a sense of spiritual connection – making us feel like an integral part of a larger whole.
If you’ve completed a course with us, or learnt Transcendental or Vedic meditation elsewhere, you can attend as many of the several online group meditations we are holding every week as you want, completely for free. Group meditation is a great way both to catch up with others and to amplify the positive feelings created by meditation, and we’ve found that conducting them online is really successful. Do join us if this is something you’d be interested in!
In our physically distanced times, it’s important to consciously maintain our relationships with other people. In normal circumstances, we might have only caught up with our good mates every couple of months, but without the option to schedule a coffee date or trip to the bar, we might let this slide. Whether it’s setting up a video call or just dropping your usual social circle a message, checking in can make a huge difference, for both you and your friends (who may also be feeling isolated).
This could be a good time to reach out to people you might have lost touch with, or to build bridges with friends or family members you lost contact with due to a half-forgotten row. Even just waving to neighbours and exchanging pleasantries (from a safe distance, of course) with the people we pass on the street helps us feel less alienated from others, and reminds us that we are all in this together.
Set goals and try new things
It’s not always easy, but if we are feeling lonely and sad, we can sometimes take our mind off these feelings by giving ourselves a new challenge and throwing ourselves into the task. Whether it’s brushing up on another language, improving our drawing skills, cracking out a neglected guitar to learn a new song – committing some time to focused and rewarding tasks is a great way to improve our mood.
There are plenty of resources online which facilitate these activities, and you can find throwing yourself into a new hobby can give you a new community to connect with, from remote meet ups to niches on social media. Across every social media platform there are communities of crafters, musicians and artists, and following people who share your interests and reaching out when you like their work is a really positive way to use these platforms.
Create a framework for your days
If you have been furloughed, or are working from home without set working hours, you may have found yourself falling into something of a malaise, where time feels soupy and your days lack anything to distinguish them from the other. This feeling of inertia can make life feel extremely grey and increase the sense of being cut off from other people (especially if we end up sleeping away much of the day), so keeping some structure can be extremely helpful.
Getting up in the morning, eating a nutritious breakfast, going for your daily exercise before settling down to your tasks creates the perception of normality and routine – and while you may not want to follow this exact daily framework, having something to structure your days will have innumerable benefits.
Reach out if you need to
It’s absolutely vital that we don’t ignore poor mental health because we don’t want to burden the health system or feel our doctor won’t have time to see us. If you are feeling anxious and depressed, and can’t find a way out of these feelings, get in touch with your GP – they can arrange support, and set up phone or video consultations. You will also find that charities such as Mind are still running their phone lines, so there’s always someone to chat to if you need it – you can find a full list here.