When we think of the challenges of COVID-19, many of us immediately think of physical health implications: severe illness, hospitalization, long-term symptoms, or worse. While the catastrophic physical toll of the disease has grown steadily in 2020, a deep concern about the mental health impact of the pandemic has become apparent, too. The effects on our relationships have been particularly devastating.
Those who live alone, are single, or live far from loved ones have been especially hard hit. Experts have raised concerns about the health ramifications of this widespread loneliness, and what it might mean for our well-being and society.
After hearing these concerns from Bumble users and experts, Bumble — an online dating, networking, and communications platform — administered a survey through their app in the hopes of gaining insight into how people are holding up emotionally. In short: they wanted to know the best way to support users right now.
This research, led by Bumble’s Head of Insights Jemma Ahmed, has shed light on the true cost of COVID to our relationships. Among their findings, they discovered that 2 in 3 users self-reported that they struggled with their mental health and well-being as a result of the pandemic, which is about double the number of users who self-reported that they were physically impacted by the disease. Additionally, the majority of users (9 in 10) feel that their lives have been radically altered in 2020, primarily as a result of COVID-19.
Below, we’ve summarized the study’s findings and what the research reveals about loneliness, anxiety, and dating in 2020. We’ve also included some tips from licensed therapists on how to cope with loneliness during the pandemic.
Heightened Loneliness Among Users
This might not come as a shock, but people are lonely. And while loneliness is not uncommon and has been steadily rising in recent years, the rate and severity of extreme loneliness experienced during the pandemic is overwhelming. Bumble found that their users are feeling very lonely and dealing with high levels of social dislocation — more than 2 in 3 users are experiencing heightened loneliness in general, and the same number feel loneliness in their romantic lives.
To learn more about how to avoid loneliness and feelings of isolation, we consulted our network of therapists. Talkspace therapist Dr. Rachel O’Neill, LPCC-S, reminds us that, “Feelings of disconnection, isolation, and despair, while uncomfortable, are a part of human existence. These feelings aren’t problematic on their own; however, how we tend to respond to the experience of these feelings is what can cause issues in our life.”
So, how can we best respond?
How to cope with loneliness, according to a therapist
Elizabeth Hinkle, LMFT, suggests asking yourself these questions when you’re feeling lonely:
- What can you do to enjoy time alone?
- What makes you feel calm during alone time?
- How do you appreciate yourself?
- What makes you feel like the best version of yourself?
- What are some hobbies and interests that you enjoy doing alone?
Once you’ve answered these questions, consider how you can translate these activities to COVID-safe options. Hinkle suggests finding outlets for these interests online for now. If you love reading, there are many virtual book clubs! The same goes for online gaming, yoga, learning a new skill, and other hobbies. Online activities are a great way to connect with others to avoid feeling so isolated.
Journaling may help you feel less lonely
O’Neill also recommends journaling as a way to ease loneliness. “Journaling is a way of getting your feelings out on paper as a way to offload them — freeing up some space mentally so you don’t feel the necessity of dwelling on those thoughts.” While it might not be full-on socializing, sometimes writing everything out on paper can give you a sense of release and help you feel better.
Some journal prompts that may be helpful include:
- When I feel lonely, I think….
- I feel most lonely when…
- I feel less lonely when…
- Ways I can focus on increasing my sense of connection are…
“Identifying what you’re feeling, accepting that the feeling is there, and taking steps to facilitate connection in your life can help you move past feelings of extreme loneliness and into a more fulfilled and connected space,” O’Neill adds. Sometimes simply being able to name what you’re feeling is enough to bring at least some improvement. Remember that it’s okay to admit when you’re feeling lonely, and that everyone feels lonely sometimes, especially during this long, difficult year.
Along with feelings of loneliness, there’s also anxiety regarding our own physical safety and the dangers of the coronavirus. What exactly can we do to lessen our anxiety?
We’re All Anxious Right Now (and That’s Okay)
Bumble found the emotional state of the study participants to be low. A few months ago, their researching team established that feelings of anxiety were associated with fear and stress about COVID, and those symptoms tended to manifest in acutely spiking and then quickly ebbing.
Now, anxiety is very high, but the tone is different than usual: it’s more enduring and consistent. The study’s participants, instead of feeling frantic and panicked, are now feeling demoralized and without hope. The reality of life during the COVID pandemic has set in, and while it might not be as terrifying as those first weeks and months, the realization of its slow, grinding monotony and that fact that it might be with us for the foreseeable future takes a heavy toll on all of us.
Bumble’s survey also found that women self-reported that they’re experiencing higher levels of anxiety, reduced body confidence, and more negative impacts to their self-confidence levels than their male counterparts. When it comes to dating, the feelings of isolation and loneliness have increased the desire for companionship and finding a partner. However, finding someone during a pandemic poses a whole new set of challenges that we’ve never faced before.
Furthermore, many are feeling a need to find someone before the second wave begins. The majority of users (60%) are concerned about their mental well-being, should a second wave hit. This reflects the wide array of anxious thoughts and behaviors occurring due to loneliness and isolation.
Anxiety of dating when coronavirus exposure is a factor
A year ago, meeting for a casual coffee or a drink after work represented a harmless, low-risk date with little to lose. Now? Seeing another person IRL is extremely anxiety provoking for anyone who fears catching the virus (which should be everyone). With COVID-19’s rapid spread, not only are we concerned with our own health, but the health of our loved ones, roommates, and co-workers. Now, when you go on an in-person date, you may have a variety of anxious thoughts running through your head. You might wonder whether the other person is taking the same safety precautions as you are, or you might consider the people you would potentially be exposing to the virus if your date ends up testing positive for COVID-19.
Bumble’s study found that coronavirus safety concerns are countered by a desire for more serious relationships. Of the female participants, 43% reported that lockdown made them want something more serious; 18% reported putting in more time and effort into their dating life in 2020; and 27% of women reported an increased focus on what really matters in a partner.
We can all likely agree that dating, and the anxiety that comes with it, is drastically different now versus before the pandemic hit. The anxieties of selecting the perfect outfit or finding a fun bar — or even what to talk about — are far outweighed by the numerous challenges that coronavirus has presented.
COVID-19’s Impact on Dating
Dating looks very different these days. In our “new normal” of social distancing and mask wearing, it’s less likely that you’ll be able to strike up a conversation with a stranger or meet someone new at a gathering with friends. Our in-person interactions are limited to our closest inner circle, making dating in-person seemingly impossible. Bumble found that their users are definitely more hesitant to meet dates in person, and only 34% are comfortable asking someone out on their first IRL date. Even if you do agree to a date IRL, then there’s the struggle to find safe first date spots. This challenge will undoubtedly increase throughout the winter as outdoor options become more limited, especially in colder climates. In all, only 41% of users reported that they’re confident in picking a safe first date venue, while 55% feel confident about an in-person first date if both parties wear face masks.
Ultimately, as singles struggle to adapt to new ways of dating, “slow dating” is a new trend on the rise. Slow dating involves being more intentional in your dating life, most often limiting the amount of time you spend on dating apps and the number of people you engage with. Some Bumble users predict that they will go back to online dating like before, but will likely change their dating goal from trying to find a long-term partner to trying to stay connected, sane, and occupied during what is predicted to be a highly stressful, lonely — and also boring — winter.
Where Do We Go From Here?
The good news is: we will get through this. Despite an unclear timeline, we will be able to meet up with a date for a casual coffee or drinks again sometime, likely next year after a vaccine has been widely rolled out.
In the meantime, we can do our best to cope with the feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and the stressors that come from dating during a pandemic. Whether you’re exploring new virtual communities online, taking more time to journal and meditate, or getting creative with date ideas, take solace in the fact that we’re all moving forward and adjusting to this reality together. Bumble’s survey not only gives us insights into the feelings of their users, but most importantly, it shows us that we’re not facing these hardships and mental health challenges alone.
Because of the pandemic’s widespread impacts, Talkspace has partnered with the Bumble team to help their users through the challenges that are impacting people who are single or living alone during this unprecedented time.
If you’re having a difficult time keeping up your normal routine and responsibilities — or your relationships — a licensed online therapist can help you cope with the loneliness that many of us are currently feeling. Meeting with a therapist can also benefit your relationship if you’re dating someone with bipolar, anxiety, or another mental health condition. If you’re looking to be proactive in dating, networking, or meeting friends online, check out all that Bumble has to offer.