Social Distancing Can Lead to Loneliness–What Can You Do?

a single iron man standing alone - Crosby Beach, Another Place by Antony Gormley - social isolation and loneliness

As lockdown is being eased, shops are reopening and social distancing reduced, we are seeing a shift in some physical impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Much of our attention over recent months has been on flattening the curve and containing the virus to protect lives and stop the NHS being overwhelmed. However, the measures that have been imposed have had, and continue to have, a significant impact on every area of our lives, not least our mental health. And one of the common mental health issues most affected by social distancing and enforced isolation is loneliness.

Many of us could not see friends and family for several months, now, and it’s having a significant impact on how we are feeling. Loneliness was already a significant issue for many people, and the COVID-19 defence strategies have made it much worse.

Understanding loneliness

While feeling lonely, of itself, is not a mental health condition, the two are strongly linked. You might have felt more alone and isolated during periods you’ve struggling with poor mental health. Research has shown that loneliness can lead to an increased risk of depression, anxiety, increased stress, low self-esteem and difficulty sleeping. It’s also been linked with an increased risk of physical ailments such as high blood pressure and heart disease.

Many of us are experiencing heightened levels of stress, uncertainty, anxiety, and depression because of this pandemic. When we add loneliness and isolation into the mix, it can only make things feel worse. So, what can you do?

Technology helps

Someone recently said, “if you think COVID-19 is bad, imagine what COVID-99 would have been like.”

Thankfully, in 2020, we have the technology to help us cope. It’s allowed many of us to work from home, aiding social distancing, and online shopping has been an essential lifeline for many people.

Zoom and other similar platforms have made remote meetings possible, facilitating home working and even keeping government (and the BBC news) functioning for the last few months. They provide a way we can engage in a video chat with individuals and groups, no matter where you are. Many neighbourhoods have created a local WhatsApp group, helping neighbours keep in touch with one another throughout this challenging time. And online dating has taken on a whole new meaning as more and more people are engaging in virtual dates. Netflix, YouTube, BroadwayHD and many other entertainment platforms are streaming online content, allowing friends and families to watch a movie or a show together, even though they are apart.

So, whether you prefer to Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp or pick up the phone, use technology to connect with those around you–and be thankful it’s 2020, not 1999!

Go outside

Now the government has eased lockdown restrictions, it’s becoming easier to get out to connect with others and engage with nature. There is powerful evidence that being outside and engaging with the natural world helps build resilience, improve mood and helps with many mental health difficulties. Being outside, especially in the sunshine, naturally boots your mood and leaves you feeling better.

Even a walk to the park can help. You’ll see others around, walking pets, exercising or just enjoying the fresh air. Seeing other people around can help you feel more connected to the world and less alone. If you’re shielding or self-isolating, opening the window to allow in sounds and smells from outside, and watching people go by can be beneficial, too.

Consider support online

If loneliness is getting you down and you’re finding it difficult to cope, you might consider online counselling. There are plenty of services offering video and telephone counselling, including our own (see below). If you’re in a crisis, services like the Samaritans can be a lifesaver, and online communities such as dailystrength.org can help when you need a listening ear.

Beyond COVID-19

As lockdown eases and life gets back to a new normal, there will be more opportunities to address your loneliness. Here are some things you might try:

  • Join a class or a local group that reflects your hobbies and interests.
  • Consider volunteering–many local charities will be on the lookout for recruits once the government eases restrictions and volunteering is a fantastic way to meet people and build confidence and self-esteem along the way.
  • Register with meetup.com and join some local groups. Meetup.com is not a dating site. It’s a place where people can go to find people with similar interests in their locality. Why not give it a go?

Getting further help

If you feel that you would benefit from talking with someone about your loneliness or anything else, please get in touch. You can call us on 0151 329 3637, email enquiries@counselling-matters.org.uk or fill out our online referral form. We are offering online, and telephone counselling, and will look to resume face-to-face working when it’s safe to do so. Loneliness can feel crippling, but you can improve it. Reach out today.

Picture from Wikipedia.org.

 

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