If you were in any doubt that some humans are deeply uncomfortable with being alone, this study found that some participants would rather receive a mild electric shock than be with their own thoughts. Fortunately/unfortunately, that’s not an option or cure right now.
I’m not a mental health expert but know a little bit about aloneness. I live with chronic pain that often leaves me bedridden, have been single for a decade, and spent the first year of sobriety from alcohol in social isolation. Solitude is my baseline.
And in the past few weeks I’ve been fielding questions from friends who are desperately missing human contact, looking for ways to tackle their newfound loneliness.
Before you befriend an inanimate object to get you through this necessary time of isolation, try to keep to a regular schedule and divide your day up into work (if working from home), rest, exercise, meals, and activities that bring pleasure and peace.
Rituals and routines can provide stability and give us power.
Here’s a rundown of how I coped during my experience and I hope it can help shape yours.
Simply starting your day by opening a window and listening to nature can have benefits that last throughout the day. A study by Stockholm University demonstrated that after psychological stress, physiological recovery is faster during exposure to pleasant nature sounds.
Notice the changes in color in the sky and the way birdsong quickens or fades. Go back to the window as often as you can throughout the day and enjoy feeling connected to something bigger than the space you’re confined to.
Every morning, write down three things you’re grateful for, however small. If you’re struggling to find gratitude in your own life, write someone you love a letter, telling them how much they mean to you.
A study by researchers at the University of Indiana found that writing gratitude letters can “unshackle us from toxic emotions.” If you’re not comfortable sending the letter, the simple act of writing may be enough to give your mood a boost.
Since listening to happy music is proven to help improve your mood, it’s no coincidence that Spotify’s most popular playlists right now include “Mood Booster” and “Happy Hits.” Familiar songs are a link to life outside of lockdown, so make some uplifting playlists to soundtrack your day and share them with friends and family. Consider even making a playlist together over FaceTime.
I love triggering happy, nostalgic memories with my favorite songs and there’s science to prove nostalgia can strengthen your sense of belonging and togetherness and help to counteract loneliness.
If human contact is out of the question, why not schedule a meal over Skype or Zoom? Being able to chat to friends or family via video can be something to look forward to on long, lonely days.
I spent a year avoiding going out while navigating early sobriety and I wish I’d been more open to socializing online, it would have saved me a ton of FOMO.
For socializing to work, take it seriously: Prepare your favorite drink and get dressed up. You can either cook food before you chat or try making a meal “together.”
If you’re looking for an afterparty, join DJ D-Nice for Club Quarantine, where you can bust some moves as the likes of Oprah, Michelle Obama, Rihanna, and Will Smith drop by.
If you’re not a bullet journal convert, there’s never been a better time to start. There’s something incredibly soothing about a journal that gives structure and form in a world where so many factors are out of your control.
I’ve used journaling to make a schedule of calls to friends, written a list of places I want to visit when quarantine is over (somewhere other than the kitchen and bathroom would be nice) and planned some future goals.
Have a page of positive affirmations and read them aloud to yourself every night. Telling yourself “I Am Awesome/Powerful/Strong/Resilient” may seem weird but the more you practice affirmations, the more likely you are to believe them.
Remember a time when all you could do with a phone was speak to other people, before texting and apps? (I’m showing my age here!) To help ease loneliness, encourage phone calls with loved ones. If they’re busy or hate talking on the phone send voice memos with anecdotes from your day.
My friends always know when I am having a bad pain day because I am more likely to call for a chat. Just the act of talking to someone I love makes me feel calm and connected, even when I’m confined to bed.
As well as the inherent comfort of hearing a familiar voice, speaking to someone you know can even increase your cerebral functioning!
Don’t expect your friends to mind read you
Be honest when reaching out to your friends because you feel lonely. It doesn’t hurt to let your friends know how important a chat is, and how you might need some space to vent. Expression is a helpful emotional release, even if circumstance don’t change.
An at-home workout is not only a great distraction, it may increase your energy levels and could help you sleep better. Try an online class (there’s plenty to choose from) and change up your routine every day so you don’t lose interest.
If you’re craving touch, exercise can be a great way to encourage you to physically connect to your body. By using a supportive touch exercise, you can trigger the same feelings of comfort by hugging yourself as having someone there to hold.
Widen your social circle online
If solitude is getting to you, look at expanding your social circle while in isolation. Whatever your passion in life, I can guarantee there’s an online community with people who share that enthusiasm whether it’s books, movies, podcasts, crafts, art, or food.
It’s reassuring to know that so many of us are going through the same weird time together and even if you will never meet your online friends IRL, when life returns to “normal” they may still play an important part of your life.
Do something meaningful for others
Meaningful actions don’t just alleviate the boredom you may experience in isolation, they also give you a sense of purpose and identity, even when the world has gone to sh*t. You don’t have to be a medic to make an important impact during a crisis — the American Red Cross are desperate for virtual volunteers and if you have some spare cash you can donate to a food relief program.
If you’re missing chats with random strangers at coffee shops or restaurants, try QuarantineChat, an anonymous voice call service that connects isolated people from around the world. It’s a bit like Chatroulette but with zero chance of unsolicited nudity.
If you’re struggling mentally without human interaction, remember this isolation isn’t going to last forever. Your loneliness isn’t killing you; it’s saving lives.
Catherine Renton is freelance broadcast, online and print journalist from the UK. When she’s not writing about sobriety, mental health and wellness she’s tweeting @rentswrites.