While loneliness is a common human emotion, during the global coronavirus pandemic many of us are feeling acutely, severely alone — an extreme loneliness that we may never have experienced before. Whether you live alone or are sharing your space during lockdown, the coronavirus is upending how we connect and leaving many of us saddled with this mostly unpleasant emotion.
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 can cause issues in our life. In particular, feelings of loneliness can carry with them judgments (“Why do I feel this way” and “It’s awful that I feel this way”). Because of these judgments, individuals may begin to label their experience of loneliness as a negative one, and they may go to great lengths to avoid what they are feeling.
However, feelings are just feelings and they aren’t the problem. How we cope with them — or how we get stuck in them — is often what leads to problems. But, with a bit of work, you can move past some of those habits of trying to change your emotions and, instead, use the following strategies to work through your feelings.
The following tips may help you as you experience severe loneliness during the coronavirus outbreak.
Accept What You’re Feeling — Without Trying To Change It
The first, and likely most powerful approach, is to practice strategies associated with accepting the feeling. This is a simple idea but it often requires some adjustment to how you view feelings. Instead of thinking, “I’m lonely and it’s terrible that I’m lonely! I need to do something to not feel this way anymore,” you might simply note that you’re feeling lonely and acknowledge that feeling.
To accomplish this, it can be helpful to focus on the use of observational statements like, “I’m feeling lonely right now,” without the associated judgment of the feeling. It is often helpful to include a reminder that you don’t need to remove a feeling, that the feeling will go away naturally, for example, “I’m feeling lonely now, but I won’t feel this way forever.” Incorporating a daily mindfulness practice can help you learn the skills that will allow you to accept emotions with less judgment.
Explore What You’re Feeling
It is not uncommon for individuals to mistake being alone for feeling lonely. Additionally, even if you’re surrounded by others — family or roommates or friends during this quarantine — you might still find yourself experiencing loneliness. Even those in decades-old relationships may find themselves feeling lonely because. The physical presence of other people is not the single most important determination of whether or not you feel lonely. Instead of approaching your feeling with judgment or dread, approach feelings with a sense of curiosity; noticing it’s there without judging how or why it arrived.
Once you’ve identified that you’re feeling lonely, it can be an important next step to begin searching for ways to find connection. Be creative and consider how you might begin to facilitate that feeling of connection. For many, connecting around a shared interest or activity can be a good entry point. For example, you may consider joining a virtual book club or a virtual fitness community. To the extent that you can, try to avoid using social media as a substitute for meaningful connection; while it might help in the short-term, it could also serve to exacerbate feelings of loneliness.
When we feel lonely, it’s not uncommon to blame ourselves or attribute our feelings of loneliness to some perceived self-deficit. Instead of engaging in this behavior, try to practice self-directed compassion. This can be accomplished simply by incorporating affirmations into your life or engaging in compassion-oriented mindfulness activities.
It may seem counterintuitive to become overly focused on the feeling of loneliness; however, sometimes giving the feeling space can be a helpful first step in reducing the power it holds in your life. 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 them.
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. Feelings of loneliness can also represent an important step in beginning to seek out therapy services. If you’re feeling lonely, consider reaching out to a trained mental health professional. Talking about the feeling — and having the benefit of human connection — may help to relieve some of those feelings.