Amidst the ups and downs of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has felt important for me to periodically check in with my patients about how they are doing: Have you noticed any fluctuations in your anxiety levels? What resources are you relying on?
But the question that has garnered the most interesting responses has been, “Have you had any noteworthy reflections about life throughout this pandemic?”
To my surprise, the most common answer I’ve heard to this question is, “I like being around people a lot more than I thought I did.”
Sure enough, even my more introverted clients have said they miss moments of human connection. The more private, closed off individuals say they yearn for physical touch. The people who longed to work from home miss being able to commiserate with co-workers about things that only the two of them really understand about their jobs. As it turns out, none of us are immune to needing human connection.
But what are we to do with this fact amidst a pandemic that requires isolation? How can we feel connected amidst an era of disconnection?
Find ways to safely connect with people in-person whenever you can.
COVID-19 doesn’t mean that you can’t see anyone ever; so long as you’re following the government's guidelines and being smart, it’s okay to cautiously get together with people. I’ve been loving going on long hikes with friends so that we can maintain our distance while catching up. Or, you can do a socially distanced outdoor workout together, take your pets for a walk, or stroll around the neighbourhood. Seeing your loved ones and getting exercise and fresh air is a great combination for your mental health and overall wellbeing!
Personally, I’ve found these in-person get togethers to be essential for my mental health during this time, even if they’re infrequent. As grateful as I am for Zoom and FaceTime calls, there’s something about seeing people in-person that is so much more natural, effortless, fulfilling, and personal to me.
2. Write letters to loved ones.
I’ve been loving making and sending homemade watercolour cards for loved ones during this time and I can’t tell you how happy it has made my friends and me! Receiving something in the mail provides such an amazing serotonin boost, and the best part is that you can keep the cards and look at them later when you need an extra boost of connection again. Whether you decide to make your own cards, buy some from the store, or just used lined paper, sending snail mail is an under-rated yet all-round gratifying hobby that I think we could all benefit from during this time of isolation!
3. Creatively recreate feelings of connection on your own.
I can remember a particular day during this pandemic where, for whatever reason, I felt especially lonely and isolated. So, I decided to try and recreate the feelings I get when I'm with my loved ones within the confines of my own home.
One of the best parts about being with loved ones for me is the feeling of familiarity. It gives me that feeling of hygge, a term from Danish culture that describes a quality of coziness and comfortable friendliness that engenders a feeling of contentment. To help re-create a feeling of hygge for myself on this particular day, I decided to put on my slippers, make myself a cup of tea, wrap myself in the coziest blanket I could find, and watch some of my favourite movies from my childhood that I hadn’t seen in ages. Not only did I feel physically cozy, but I felt emotionally cozy too (if that makes any sense). And there I sat all day watching movies like Richie Rich, Oliver & Company, The Sword in the Stone, Disney’s Robin Hood and I felt completely transported to another time when COVID wasn’t even in my vocabulary. Needless to say, it was an excellent day.
(By the way, there are entire books about the concept of hygge, which I encourage you to check out!)
4. Unplug from social media.
When you’re feeling lonely, it might seem logical to spend more time on social media given that the whole point of it is to be, well, social. However, I’ve seen a trend among my patients where the more time they spend on social media these days, the worse they feel. Instead of connecting with people, they end up comparing themselves to others and ultimately feeling like crap. And with something as novel as COVID-19—where there’s no blueprint of what “coping” looks like—our minds can often tell us that our version of coping just isn’t “right" for whatever reason. I should be working out more like my cousin Haley. I should be using this time to start that company I always wanted to like my high school frenemy Jacob. These trains of thought aren’t helpful on a good day, let alone when we're isolated and have way too much time on our hands to think about them even more.
Set some hard limits around your social media usage. You can decide to set a timer whenever you open the apps, delete them altogether, or use other apps that block you from using social media if willpower won’t cut it.
5. Rely on more than just texting.
Smartphones have so many amazing features these days that can be used to our advantage during this time. Instead of just texting people, try sending voice notes. If you have an iPhone, draw out a funny message or picture to send them or forward them humorous memes or TikToks. Send them photos of things that brought you joy that day—or of things that made you think of them.
6. Reach out to old friends.
Having more time on your hands and craving relationship creates a great opportunity to connect with old friends with whom you may have lost touch. Send them a message to see how they’re doing and ask if they want to catch up.
7. Remember our common humanity right now.
Moments of loneliness often cause us to tell ourselves that we’re the only ones going through our experience. Connecting to our common humanity—the parts of our experience that many people can relate to—is a key component of self-compassion that's particularly useful right now. Instead of telling yourself, “I’m so lonely and no one understands me,” (which is self-pity), try saying something along the lines of, “How many people can relate to the experience of feeling alone right now?” Remembering that we are all going through this topsy-turvy world together right now can be comforting.
8. Reconnect with yourself.
Due to the lack of options for things to do right now, we’re able to spend more time with our roommates, family members, partners, or ourselves. We can also take stock of where we’re at with life and ask some questions that we mightn’t have had the time to ask ourselves before: What do I like to do with my time? What brings me joy? What “should’s” have I been living by? What doesn’t bring me joy that I was convincing myself did?
Reconnect with yourself by learning more about what brings you a sense of pleasure. If you haven’t the faintest idea of what you like to do, just start somewhere; it’s all trial and error. Even if you realize you don’t like something, it’s one more thing you’ve learned about yourself that you didn’t know before.
9. Get involved.
I’ve noticed that some people have used COVID-19 as an excuse to not engage in any self-care practices. While the pandemic has undeniably thrown our daily routines a huge curveball, the important thing is that we adapt. Losing access to the gym doesn’t mean there’s no way to incorporate movement into your routine. Being unable to attend your weekly pottery class doesn't mean you can’t do anything creative with like-minded individuals. Don't use COVID-19 as an excuse; use it as an opportunity to get creative and find other things to do. Here are some great options for things you can do online during this time, from cooking classes and fitness activities to taking virtual tours of art galleries or learning about a new subject. Finding virtual volunteer opportunities is another great way to get involved during this time.
The Bottom Line
During these strange times, it is totally normal and valid to have moments of feeling lonely and isolated. With minimal or no access to our usual resources and restrictions around who we can see and what we can do, how could we not feel more lonely than usual? Know that you are not alone in this experience even a little bit.
That said, there are fortunately things we can do to make moments of loneliness a little less frequent and intense. Go on hikes or walks with friends so that you have some in-person visits in a safe way. Spend less time on your phone and more time writing letters to loved ones. Reconnect with yourself and learn about the art of hygge as a way of taking care of yourself. Brainstorm how you can get your social needs met even if it’s going to feel and look a little different than your usual pre-COVID routine. Most importantly, however, know that we are all together in separation.
If you or someone you know is struggling with feelings of isolation right now, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to book an in-person session at our Markham or Vaughan office (with precautions in place) or a virtual session.