We all have our bouts of loneliness, but none of us have experienced almost a full year of isolation. Now think about single individuals living alone day after day, week after week, month after month during this pandemic. We worry about our elderly relatives or our parents who struggling with virtual learning for their kids, but we forget about the single population. How are they coping?
They possibly can be the hardest hit emotionally from this pandemic. In 2017, the Census Bureau reported 45 percent of Americans are single, and that number continues to rise. That’s a lot of people living alone and in isolation during a pandemic. Pre-COVID, singles had many socialization options – they would have lunch with co-workers, hang out with friends after work, visit their family, go out on dates, or stay home alone by choice. Now, those choices have been taken away.
According to recent studies, loneliness is considered an emerging public health threat today, and even moreso with the forgotten population of singles. In talking with single clients, some are saying they are not sleeping well, they are having trouble concentrating, they are depressed, they aren’t practicing good hygiene, and their self-perception and level of happiness is diminishing rapidly. Their normal routine is non-existent, they aren’t happy with their new normal, and many are lost emotionally.
A 2017 systematic review of 40 studies from 1950 to 2016 published in the journal Public Health found a significant association between social isolation and loneliness and poorer mental health outcomes as well as an increase in mortality rates.
What can singles do to reduce their loneliness and stress, improve their sense of self-worth and regain their lost happiness?
As a single person living alone, I have tried these activities and they are working for me:
- Take a long, scenic drive. A change of environment often gives you a new, positive outlook.
- Explore your own backyard. You might be surprised what nature has to offer in your neighborhood.
- Take walks with a quarantine buddy.
- Journal. Writing down your thoughts often clears you mind of negative energy.
- Call a friend and set up regular zoom chats. Connecting with others can help alleviate loneliness and anxiety. Your friend may be struggling, too, and these calls also can improve your outlook because you are helping someone else who is lonely.
- Take online exercise classes. They will re-energize you.
- Set up grocery shopping “dates” with a friend.
Any activity that helps you feel included can improve your wellbeing.
Here are a few more suggestions to help singles look forward to a new day and a new outlook on life:
- Practice mindfulness. Think about the present moment only and remove all distractions and negative thoughts for just a few minutes.
- Accept and welcome support from others. Take their calls and allow them to help you feel better.
- Prevent panic; sometimes it is a good idea to go screen-free and stop listening to news headlines that may intensify your anxiety.
- Keep a consistent schedule. Try to maintain as many normal daily activities as possible. Wake up at the same time, start your day as you always have, and try to keep as much of the structure you had in your day before COVID-19. It may help to fill those voids of loneliness.
- Start each day with a plan of what you want to accomplish that day. Keep your list realistic so you can cross out most, if not all, of the “to dos.” At the end of the day, you should be able to review your list and celebrate your productivity.
- Laugh often. It provides so much relief in stressful times.
- Look for positive moments. They are all around you.
- Host an online book club, cocktail party or breakfast gathering with friends.
- Replace unhealthy habits with healthy ones a little at a time. Our brain wants predictable activity. If you want to change your mood, change your activities and your thoughts.
- Eat healthy foods. Good nutrition improves your mood. When we are stressed, we tend to seek comfort foods that aren’t always healthy choices.
- Be patient with your productivity. Expect distractions if you are working from home. If you are working remotely, find a designated workspace and use this same area when you work. It will help you focus and improve your productivity.
- Do something meaningful. When you are alone and isolated, you can lose your sense of purpose.
- Find sources of comfort. Take a long, relaxing bath; try a new recipe; read a book you’ve had on your “to read” list; watch a favorite TV show or listen to some enriching podcasts.
- Start a new hobby.
Most importantly, practice self-compassion and show compassion for others. If you are struggling yourself, often helping someone else who is struggling may give you comfort and ease your loneliness.
And remember to be extra kind and patient with yourself. Use this time as the rare opportunity to emerge with a renewed appreciation for what you have and who you are. Focus on this. At the end of the day (and this pandemic) your overall happiness and sense of self-worth does not depend on other people. It depends on you and what you do with your life.
Remember, you are doing the best you can. Be forgiving, especially on difficult days.