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Has your anxiety over lockdown easing left you feeling isolated? Here’s how to cope

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

If the idea of getting back out there as lockdown eases has left you feeling anxious, you’re not alone. For many people, the idea of getting ‘back to normal’ isn’t as straightforward as booking a table at the local pub, and it’s OK if you want to take things slowly.

However, if you’re surrounded by others who do feel comfortable getting back out there, you may also be feeling a little left behind. 

It’s great to see so many people enjoying themselves after so long spent inside, but if you’re not ready to do the same – whether that’s because you’re still shielding, are experiencing post-lockdown anxiety or simply want to err on the side of caution – it can be a pretty isolating experience. 

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If you’re feeling left out, isolated or lonely as a result of lockdown easing, there are some things you can do to alleviate those feelings and look after your mental health during this difficult time. 

To find out more, we asked Sarah Romotsky, Headspace’s director of healthcare partnerships for her top tips. 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 and feeling left behind,” 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.”

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with their mental health, 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, 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 jo@samaritans.org.

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s junior digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.

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