According to new data from the ONS, lockdown loneliness levels reached their peak at the beginning of November. Here, Stylist’s Lauren Geall explores why, despite knowing that so many other people are feeling isolated, she’s finding it so hard to process her loneliness during lockdown 2.0.
Anyone who has experienced loneliness will know it’s an emotion that doesn’t conform to expectations.
There’s always something very surprising about where, when and how loneliness strikes – despite the stereotypes which tell us it’s an experience reserved for those who live alone or elderly people struggling to find a sense of community, loneliness has the potential to creep up on anyone.
And it’s this fact which has made realising that I’m feeling lonely in lockdown 2.0 particularly hard, because I’m not alone – at all. I have a family who I live with, a boyfriend at the end of a phone, friends to chat to at any hour of the day and colleagues to interact with at work – but despite all this, I have spent the last couple of weeks struggling with the realisation that I still feel incredibly lonely.
There are a number of reasons why I think this is the case. For starters, like most people, I’m spending a lot of time inside at the moment – and when I do go out, it’s for walks with my family where there aren’t many other people around.
As someone who thrives in a city environment, the lack of daily connection with new and unfamiliar human beings – the barista at the coffee shop, the stranger sat next to me on the train – feels more poignant than ever this time around. With the novelty of lockdown life having worn off back in May, the reality of this detachment is hitting ten times harder.
Then there’s the fact that, no matter how many times I try, logging on to a Zoom call is just not the same as seeing my boyfriend or friends face to face. There’s no reminder of distance quite like the blurred screen of lost FaceTime signal, is there?
And while I’m grateful that technology allows me to connect with the people I love, it’s emotionally draining to spend so much of a conversation asking the person on the end of the line whether they can hear you.
Finally, and perhaps most poignantly, I’m finding it hard to talk about the fact that I’m feeling lonely in the first place – something which only makes me feel more alone. As someone who writes about mental health for a living, I tend to be quite an open book – I’m more than happy to discuss the pros and cons of antidepressants over a pint after work, and I enjoy talking openly about my experiences in therapy. But despite all this, talking about my loneliness has proved a completely different ball game – not only because I feel guilty about verbalising my loneliness when I have the most wonderful people around me, but also because I feel ashamed by it.
That last fact has been a hard truth for me to confront. As someone who is a fierce advocate for the power of speaking about mental health and opening up about how we’re feeling, the shame I’ve felt towards my own loneliness has been particularly challenging to unpick.
I know I’m not alone in my experience of loneliness. Not only do new figures from the ONS show that 8% of adults (approximately 4.2 million people) were “always or often lonely” at the beginning of November (the highest number since social distancing began in March), but that research has also shown that young people between the ages of 16 to 29 are twice as likely as the over 70s to be experiencing loneliness.
However, despite all of this, I can’t shake the assumption that my loneliness is some kind of personal failure – that, unlike the people I see on social media making the most of ‘lockdown life,’ going on socially-distanced walks with friends or being super productive, I am lonely because I have failed at being a young person who is ‘supposed’ to be always surrounded by friends and having fun, no matter what’s going on.
I know thinking like this is counterproductive, but it just goes to show how easy it is to internalise these attitudes without even realising it.
My rational self knows that my loneliness isn’t a reflection of who I am – we’re in the middle of a global pandemic, for God’s sake! – but it’s all too easy to see ourselves as an exception to the rule and tell ourselves the opposite of what we would a friend in our position.
If like me, you’re feeling isolated right now, it’s important to remember that you’re definitely not alone. It’s all too easy to imagine that loneliness is a reflection of ourselves – that we’re feeling disconnected because of who we are or the way we act – but the reality is that everyone is having a tough time right now, and we need to try our best to remember that, no matter what we might be inclined to tell ourselves.
Coping with loneliness
If you’re feeling lonely at the moment, it’s important to understand that you’re not alone. The coronavirus pandemic has left many people feeling isolated – but reaching out and talking about how you’re feeling can make a difference. To find out more about coping with loneliness during this time, you can check out these three articles:
For more information on taking care of your mental health during the second lockdown, you can check out our guide.
If you, or someone you know, is struggling with loneliness, you can find support and resources on the mental health charity Mind’s website and NHS Every Mind Matters or access the NHS’ list of mental health helplines and organisations here.
If you are struggling with your mental health as a result of loneliness, you can also ask your GP for a referral to NHS Talking Therapies, or you can self-refer.
For confidential support, you can also call the Samaritans in the UK on 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.