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Loneliness: how to deal with FOMO if you’re not ready to get ‘back to normal’

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Lauren Geall
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Feeling left out by friends and family members getting ‘back to normal’ when you don’t feel ready? Here’s how to handle this unexpected form of FOMO.

If you’ve found the transition into the ‘new normal’ a little trickier than others, chances are you’ve been left dealing with a lot of FOMO.

As lockdown restrictions have eased and friends and family members have returned to their pre-lockdown routines, those of us who have been hesitant to get back out there with them have been feeling rather left behind.

It’s great news that so many people feel comfortable getting back out and enjoying themselves after so long spent inside, but if you’re finding it difficult to do the same, it can be a pretty isolating experience. 

It’s important to remember that it’s OK to feel scared or anxious about getting back to normal – the coronavirus pandemic has presented us all with a situation we’ve never experienced before, so it only makes sense that we’re all reacting in different ways. It’s also OK to take things at your own pace when you do decide to head back out again.

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In the meantime, however, it’s important to take care of your mental health and use healthy coping mechanisms to navigate any feelings of FOMO or isolation you may be facing. 

To find out more about how we can do just that – including how mindfulness meditation could help to alleviate some of those feelings – we asked Sarah Romotsky, Headspace’s director of healthcare partnerships for some advice. Here’s what she had to say.

1. Understand the difference between being alone and feeling alone

Woman staying home during the coronavirus pandemic
Just because you've got lots of friends and family, doesn't mean you can't feel lonely.

Admitting that you’re feeling alone can be difficult, especially if you believe you don’t have “any reason” to feel that way. But just because you’ve got friends or you’re surrounded by family, doesn’t mean you can’t feel isolated – and berating yourself for how you’re feeling is only going to make you feel worse.

“It is commonly believed that loneliness is a direct result of being on our own. While that can be an important contributing factor, this is a slight misconception,” Romotsky says. “We can be on our own and not feel lonely, and similarly be surrounded by others, including family and friends, and yet still feel alone.”

She continues: “In this situation, it’s important to note the crucial distinction between being alone and feeling alone. If we can accept that loneliness exists in the mind, and is not dependent on us being physically alone, then it can be reframed in our mind. The first step to working with our mind constructively is to let go of external blame. It is not others imposing loneliness on us, it is our own perception and experience.” 

2. Use your phone to your advantage

It may sound obvious to say so, but using your phone to connect with people – and being aware of when it’s all getting too much – is a great way to handle any feelings of isolation you might be experiencing.

“In many cases, our friends and family will be understanding of the decision to stay inside. It’s important to use technology to stay in touch with people, whether it’s through social media or group video calls. This can be a great way to keep in touch with people and stay connected without leaving home too much,” Romotsky says.

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“Equally important is understanding when social media is becoming too much to handle, and instead using that time to partake in a hobby or pastime. Whilst loneliness can have adverse consequences on your mental and physical health, aloneness can help us cultivate presence, self-reflection and even creativity.”

3. Learn to be at ease with your feelings

A woman writing in her journal
Writing down how you're feeling can be a great way to help you understand your emotions.

Loneliness can be an incredibly difficult emotion to deal with – writing down how you’re feeling and coming to terms with your inner-thoughts can be a great way to handle it.

“Loneliness can become problematic when we become consumed or overwhelmed by it, and experience resistance to it. Take a moment to step back, look inwardly and acknowledge the negative thoughts and feelings you are experiencing,” Romotsky suggests. “You may find it easier to talk aloud about how you feel or write down your feelings in a journal. This can help you realise that your thoughts do not define you and gain more space from them. By accepting them and putting them out into the open, you can detach yourself from this isolating feeling.”

She continues: “This shift of perspective and mindset can take time. It’s okay to feel sadness and negativity and be overwhelmed by these feelings. Nevertheless, it’s also possible to be open to them and this is where meditation can also help.”

4. Practice meditation to find comfort and understanding

When we’re experiencing difficult emotions, it can be tempting to try and distance ourselves from them and distract ourselves as much as possible. Practicing mindfulness meditation can help you to overcome this impulse and gain a greater understanding of what you’re going through.

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“Stepping out of the mind through meditation can be a powerful antidote for FOMO,” Romotsky says. “It enables us to become more present in our feelings and discover things about ourselves that surprise us. This openness can be a gateway to a greater understanding of ourselves and our own lives, as well as positively changing our relationship with others, and the world around us.”

She continues: “Through mindfulness, we can learn to be more comfortable sitting with ourselves and with our own minds. Compassion for oneself and for others is a key aspect of mindfulness and this can help us experience more connection with the world around us.”

Coping with loneliness

If you’re feeling lonely at the moment, it’s important to understand that you’re not alone in your emotions. 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 coping with loneliness and taking care of your mental health, including organisations that might be able help, you can check out the NHS loneliness pages or visit the Mind website.

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