Here in the UK, we’ve done six weeks of lockdown, and being apart from our family and friends has become the ‘new normal’. If you’re struggling to cope with feeling lonely, or if you’re missing your loved ones, the below advice can help.
Last week, I was really busy. I drank wine with my siblings, ate dinner with my parents and helped my friend prep for a first date. I finished last in a pub quiz and planned a holiday with my boyfriend.
And it was great. Except there was something vital missing – namely, the actual physical presence of any of these people. Every drink, every dinner, every moment spent moaning about the lack of pasta in the shops was shared through a screen, our tiny pixelated faces frequently freezing as the internet tried to keep up with the sudden demand of an entire nation socialising through video calls. And yes, it was nice. But it wasn’t the same at all.
I’m immensely grateful to the powers of technology for helping to keep me connected with my loved ones, but communicating via a phone or laptop is a poor consolation prize for seeing someone in real life. We’re now well into lockdown, and for most of us, that means we’ve gone over a month without seeing anyone outside of our households.
Every relationship we have has suddenly been plunged into long distance territory, from family members to partners, friends and colleagues. To say it’s been difficult to adapt to this new normal is an understatement.
Personally, my two housemates are the only people I’ve interacted with in real life, apart from the heroic staff working tirelessly at my local Sainsbury’s. I love my housemates, but I’m desperate to see my other friends. I miss my parents, my siblings, and my boyfriend. I love working from home, but I miss my colleagues, and the easy camaraderie of sharing constant ideas, jokes and biscuits for eight hours a day. I miss the staff in the Pret that I visit almost every morning, and the now-familiar stranger I walk past every day on my way to the Tube.
I miss the heady freedom of leaving my house whenever I choose and heading out to meet people in real life. I miss taking myself for dinner and spending an hour people watching. I miss being hugged. I miss it all.
While I feel physically alone, I know I’m not alone in my feelings.
“The last time I saw my mum and sister, it was before the UK went into lockdown, and it was from two metres away,” says Kayleigh Dray, Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. “‘I don’t know when I’ll see you again,’ my mum said, raising her arms to hug me, before remembering she wasn’t able to do so. They dropped uselessly back to her sides. We waved. And that was it.
“I haven’t seen them in person since. Mum’s vulnerable, due to an ongoing lung condition. My sister is an NHS nurse, bravely going into the intensive care ward every day to help those suffering with Covid-19. Both of them are afraid of what’s coming.
“While I can talk to them on the phone, it’s not the same as being able to pop round for tea, or meet up at the pub, or go for a walk in the park. And, whenever we go to say goodbye, I get a weird lump in my throat. I’m lucky I’m so close to them both, I guess – and we’ve gone weeks without seeing each other before: someone’s been busy with work, or away on holiday, or just catching up with life admin. But being told you can’t see them? Knowing if you break the rules, you could cause one of them to become incredibly ill? It’s horrible. All I want to do is give them a hug.”
“It’s been a long time since I last saw my boyfriend, and not knowing when I’m going to see him again is really difficult,” says Lauren Geall, Stylist’s digital junior writer. “Sure, speaking over FaceTime is great, but not being able to give him a hug or chat face to face without dodgy internet is really hard. I know he’s safe and that’s the most important thing, but it’s the absence of a lockdown end date which is making things even more tricky.”
“I’ve known my best friend since we were 11 years old. She was the first friend I made on the first day of secondary school, and I still vividly remember her standing taller than everyone else with a HUGE beaming smile on her face, looking around completely unafraid – while I was ready to go home before lunch time,” says Stylist’s digital writer Megan Murray. “We’re both from Nottingham, so when I came to London for university it was the first time we hadn’t been a bus ride away from each other since meeting. Luckily, a few years later she joined me, and we’ve been inseparable again ever since.
“This time apart has been really difficult for me because the nature of our friendship is to bounce off each other, cackling loudly and prancing around arm-in-arm (probably annoying everyone near us). She’s such a force of energy that watching her on video just doesn’t cut it, and actually makes me miss being around her more. Since lockdown her work has struggled, she’s had her 28th birthday which I couldn’t see her for and my relationship with my partner has had some ‘moments’ that I could have really used my best friend and a glass of wine for. I hate that we’re missing out on each other’s lives as the weeks pass by.”
If you’re also missing your loved ones, there is a tiny bit of comfort to be taken in knowing that these feelings are completely normal. Humans are social creatures, and being asked to stay inside and isolate is difficult enough, without the backdrop of a global pandemic to worry about.
As always, there are glimmers of hope to be found in this situation. Connecting with people via Zoom and House Party is far from ideal, but 50 years ago we would barely have had the technology to make a single phone call – we’re lucky to be able to keep so close to our loved ones, even if we can’t in person.
There’s also the hope that once we’re past the worst of the pandemic, hopefully in the next few months, we’ll have had a chance to reevaluate our priorities. We might be able to take a step back from a job or living situation that no longer makes us happy, or see a toxic relationship or friendship for what it is. We’ll have a clearer understanding of what really matters to us, and what parts of our lives we want to rush back to – and what parts we don’t.
Most importantly, we’ll know which relationships we want to hold on to tight, and pour all of our energy into maintaining through the rest of 2020 and beyond.
Feel lonely? Here’s what to do if you’re missing your loved ones during lockdown
Now that we’re in lockdown, most of us are separated from some of the people we care about most, be they romantic partners, elderly parents, siblings or close friends. In an already stressful situation, how can we cope with the feelings of loneliness and isolation that result? Below, Dr. Becky Spelman, psychologist and clinical director of Private Therapy Clinic, shares her advice.
• Focus on one day at a time. At the moment, nobody knows how long the lockdown will last. Newspapers and media speculate wildly, but the bottom line is that this is a great unknown. There is no point in agonising over whether it will be weeks or many months before you can see the people you love. Accept that you are missing them today, and leave worrying about the future to the side. Find peace in the moment, and let go of the anxiety that you may feel about not being able to plan for the future.
• Stay in touch. As well as the many ways of staying in touch over the Internet and phone, consider staying in touch with cards and letters, too. Writing an old-fashioned letter will give you the opportunity to process your thoughts and feelings in a slower, more timely way.
• Plan something fun to do with them in the future. Of course, nobody knows when we can actually do the things that we have been so looking forward to with our favourite people – but that doesn’t mean that we can’t start making plans. Consider starting a vision board or writing down a bucket list of fun activities that you can do together when things are better.
• Have regular “events”. A phone call or meet-up on Skype or Zoom every day or every few days will help to beat the sense of isolation that you are feeling.
• Do something together. No, you can’t be physically together, but you can download the same book to read on your Kindle and meet up virtually to discuss it, or you can work out to the same YouTube videos and share your progress. Doing something meaningful together, while remaining apart, can help.
• Try to stay positive. While it is important to live in the moment, and to find positives wherever possible, don’t repress your feelings of sorrow. Give yourself some space every day to recognise and respect your more negative feelings, and then get on with your life.
• Know that this is not forever. Things will change. They will get better.
If you’re an avid Stylist fan, you’ll know it’s not always possible to find an issue of our magazine. Often they’re gone before you head into work (they disappear fast!), or you live in a part of the UK where you can’t get your hands on a copy. Add to this the fact that millions of us are not commuting right now, and we wanted to ensure you don’t miss out on the magazine any longer.
Which is why we’re delighted to let you know that Stylist magazine is now available in a digital format, both for Apple and Android users, allowing you to download the full magazine directly to your smartphone or tablet, wherever you may be.
Pricing for our digital magazine starts at just 99p for a single issue, or £21.99 for a full year’s subscription –that’s less than 50p a week! Simply click on the link to activate your Stylist app download from either the Apple store or Google Play and enjoy!
This article was first published on 14 April 2020 and has been updated throughout