Coping with lockdown loneliness

Quarantine, self-isolation, physical distancing and curfews have made it difficult to maintain your social life. If you’re feeling lonely, read on.

Now more than ever, human connection is vital for your sense of wellbeing. Paradoxically, in the age of self-isolation and physical distancing, human contact and social support is in increasingly short supply.

‘Social support is the perception and awareness of not being alone,’ says Professor Eddie Wolff, a clinical psychologist at Mediclinic Sandton. ‘It’s the awareness of being in the hearts and minds of people in all areas of life, including your home, work and social environment. This may include romantic relationships/spouses, family, friends, group affiliations, such as a hobby or sports club, your employer and colleagues. Just knowing others are there for you forms the foundation of social support.’

You’re likely to spend time with different people who nourish you in various ways. Yet now, in the age of COVID-19, you’re required to keep to yourself and limit your contact with the outside world. So it’s not surprising that you may be feeling lonely, even if you’re in lockdown with family members.’

Ronel Groenewald, a counselling psychologist at Mediclinic Kimberley and Gariep, explains that long-term loneliness is associated with an increased risk of mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety and increased stress. ‘The impact of long-term loneliness on mental health can be hard to manage,’ she says. ‘Limited social interaction will impact your mood if you don't consciously work to maintain that connection in other ways, This is why staying in touch via phone, video calling, WhatsApp or other means is vital.’

While online contact might not be quite as satisfying as meeting face to face, it’s a vital and practical substitute in these unprecedented times. Here are some ways you can integrate online activities into your life:

  • Stick to social routines where possible. For instance, join your ‘real-life’ book club for a monthly Zoom/Facetime meeting. Or invite friends for a virtual coffee, glass of wine or ‘quarantini’. Another option is to join a team at one of the many online quizzes hosted on Facebook or YouTube.
  • Keeping physically healthy can help boost your mood and ease feelings of loneliness. Even if you can’t get outside much, there are a host of free online exercise programmes – ranging from yoga to HIIT to strength training.
  • If you’re up for a challenge, try to use your downtime productively online. Perhaps research something new, attempt to make an ‘Instagrammable’ dessert and share the results, or learn a new skill. Signing up for an online course or group is likely to bring you in contact with like-minded people who are also eager to chat about their new hobby or pursuit.
  • Of course, you can’t get all your inspiration online and it’s important to make time for relaxing ‘real-world’ pursuits that you can enjoy alone.
  • Choose a mindful activity, such as breath work, gardening, listening to soothing music, cooking a nourishing meal or enjoying a thought-provoking podcast, to take your mind off feelings of anxiety and loneliness.
  • Keep photos and mementos of your favourite people, places, views and memories to hand. Looking at them can be comforting when you’re feeling low.
  • Plan a few activities with friends and family members once the lockdown restrictions ease. Although no one has a crystal ball to predict exactly when that will happen, it’s always uplifting to have something to look forward to.