As the coronavirus lockdown continues and the reality of being separated from our loved ones begins to hit, Stylist explores how to tell when you are feeling lonely – and how to cope with isolation.
Among all of the breaking news updates and social distancing debates that have been dominating social media, there’s one outcome of the coronavirus outbreak which has received a lot less coverage: the loneliness of lockdown.
Four weeks in to the government-mandated lockdown, and it’s likely that many of us will be beginning to struggle with being isolated from our everyday lives. For many people who live alone, it’s not the staying home or only leaving the house for essential items that’s a challenge: it’s not having face-to-face human contact with anyone for the foreseeable future.
Even those people who are living with others – whether they’re close friends, family members or housemates – are likely to miss those people they’re separated from, whether that’s their parents, significant other or colleagues.
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 probably be experiencing it for the first time in their lives.
“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.
“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.”
For Romotsky, the first step in overcoming these feelings of loneliness is becoming aware of these feelings and not judging them.
“Having a good understanding of loneliness, and the feelings that might come with it, is the first step in managing it,” Romotsky explains. “Meditation allows us to familiarise ourselves with our feelings of loneliness, but not to overthink them and instead to understand that these feelings do not make us.
“Headspace’s 10-day Loneliness pack was designed to help people understand that being alone and feeling alone are two very different things. Meditation also helps us acknowledge that loneliness is not due to external forces, but rather about developing the skills to sit with your mind as it is.”
She continues: “Meditation teaches us to be curious about what we’re thinking and feeling; we can learn to recognise feelings of loneliness, sit with them but then let them disappear. If we approach loneliness with this perspective, we are able to change our relationship with it, understanding what’s internal and what’s external, and acknowledging that it’s ok to feel this way, ultimately altering how we relate to feeling lonely.”
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.”
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.