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How to tell when you’re feeling lonely – and what to do about it

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Lauren Geall
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A woman feeling lonly

As we prepare ourselves for an extended period of time at home thanks to the coronavirus outbreak, Stylist explores how to tell when you are feeling lonely – and how to cope with isolation.

Amid all of the reports on social distancing, self-isolation and lockdowns, there’s one side effect of the coronavirus outbreak which tends to get a lot less coverage: the loneliness.

As a result of the government’s latest guidelines, we are now being asked to stay at home for all but essential reasons, including: shopping for necessities, once a day for exercise, medical need or providing care and travelling to and from work (if we can’t work from home). And across the country, thousands of people in the most at risk categories have been asked to stay home – and not leave – for 12 weeks or more. We are now a society of isolated individuals – staying apart to help each other, but alone nonetheless.

It’s important then, among all the conversations about the anxiety and unease circulating at the moment, that we take the time to acknowledge the realities of loneliness – especially when so many people will perhaps be experiencing it for the first time in their lives.

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“During this time of ongoing change and uncertainty, it’s easy to feel like you’re alone and a bit lost in it all,” explains Sarah Romotsky, director of healthcare partnerships at Headspace. “With social distancing and self-isolation, reduced physical contact can above all make you feel apart and disconnected from the world around you – even when you’re virtually and digitally connected in other ways.”

It’s clear that we mustn’t underestimate the impact of loneliness in this uncertain time – but loneliness isn’t always easy to recognise, especially within ourselves. With this in mind, we asked Romotsky exactly what signs we should be keeping an eye out for – both in ourselves and others – to identify when we’re feeling lonely, and what we can do about it.

A woman on her laptop at night
Loneliness can manifest as feelings of stress and frustration.

“The physical manifestations of loneliness are real and being lonely can cause your stress hormones to elevate as your body produces more cortisol (the body’s main stress hormone),” Romotsky explains.

“It can also have a negative impact on your sleep, causing your body to take a fight-or-flight response and interrupting regular sleep patterns. Over time, this can have a snowball effect on your overall health and lead to serious mental and physical health conditions.”

She continues: “In order to manage these feelings better, it’s important to first identify them. Loneliness can present itself in many ways – and sometimes, in different ways for different people. For some, it might present itself in anger or frustration, irritability or impatience. In others, it might be melancholy or emptiness, or even more physical feelings of sleeplessness, unproductivity or lethargy.”

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Alongside meditation, it’s also important to utilise technology to stay connected with your friends and family during this difficult time. Speaking to people over the phone or via video chat may not feel as “real” as seeing someone in person, but that social connection is still incredibly important.

As mental health advocate Jo Love previously told Stylist: “Connecting with friends and family may have to be via technology if you’re in isolation, but there is a growing body of research suggesting that social health is just as, if not more, important to overall wellbeing as physical health.

“As humans, we need connection in order to stay mentally healthy. While this may be harder to do if you’re self-isolating away from someone, offer to have a Facetime cup of tea together.”

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To help people globally in managing their mental wellbeing and feelings of anxiety and isolation, Headspace has launched a free, specially-curated “Weathering the storm” collection of meditation and mindfulness content, available without a monthly or annual subscription. 

For more information and to access Headspace’s free Weathering the Storm collection, download the Headspace app and visit www.headspace.com.

Images: Getty/Unsplash

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Lauren Geall

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