A psychologist’s guide to managing loneliness in self-isolation

Working from home? Stuck with no one to talk to? Here’s how to care for your mental health as we enter self-isolation. 

We have to acknowledge that loneliness is going to be part of the picture for the next few months now we begin to practice self-isolation with the current outbreak of COVID-19.

As humans, we generally benefit from being around people – even introverts need some degree of social interaction and connection. Taking an evolutionary perspective, we are hard-wired to want to be around people.

Back in the day, our survival depended on being able to go to others for support or comfort.

These days, although our survival doesn’t necessarily depend on the protection of others, we can still struggle somewhat when we are isolated. People who describe themselves as lonely or isolated have higher rates of mental and physical health issues, are more likely to experience suicidal thoughts, and generally have lower rates of wellbeing.

Here are some ideas for managing loneliness during this period of self-isolation:

1. Set a routine

If we consider our social and mental hygiene to be as important as our physical hygiene, it will be helpful to schedule your day just like you might if everything was normal.

Your days should include a certain amount of work time, a certain amount of self-care time (think exercise and relaxation), some time for chores and cooking, and for social activities (phone calls, Facetime and online catch-ups).

If you live alone, perhaps consider ramping this up even more and having online ‘meetings’ with friends over lunch. Consider your ‘ideal’ amount of social interaction of two hours a day, and see if you can find ways of getting close to this in any way that you can.

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2. Reconsider Values

Often difficult and challenging times like this can force us to re-examine our values and consider the relationships that are the most important to us. With that in mind, it might be useful to step back and take stock of the friendships and relationships that you really want to focus on, and try and make time each day, or every couple of days, to attend to this.

Whether it means being in touch with family more, or starting a WhatsApp group with some friends from work – investing time in those nurturing and rewarding friendships is important right now.

3. Be intentional!

We know that, as distracting and engrossing social media is, we can find ourselves being quite passive if we use it a lot, especially when we’re stressed.

It is possible to spend hours on social media and feel lonely – and who wants that?

Being able to limit the time we engage in things like that, and focus more on things that are productive and meaningful to us, and serve as a great distraction right now. This might look like focusing on hobbies (music, drawing, yoga), creating things (baking, crafts, cooking) or exercise. Basically, whatever makes you feel happy, productive and fulfilled.

Briony Leo is a Psychologist and Health Coach.

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