Now that it is 2021, you might have reflected on how isolating 2020 has been. Chances are you did not get to spend the holidays with friends or family as you have in the past. Many parties and gatherings may have been canceled which has caused you to feel a sense of loneliness. Maybe you have lost a loved one or the pandemic has caused you to stay sheltered inside your house the past year. You couldn't wait to say goodbye to 2020 and was hoping when the clock struck midnight on December 31st it would all change. But, the only thing that changed was replacing the 0 with the 1 on the calendar.
You continue to find yourself daydreaming of better days when life was not so lonely. You remember what it was like to laugh with friends and have human interaction. You reflect on how you took for granted going into work each day. Some days it is difficult to get out of bed because what is the point? You find yourself listening to sad music on repeat and gazing out the window because what else is there to do? COVID has changed everyone's life and it is difficult to look at the positive. You wish something would save you from this misery that you are feeling.
Angela is a 54 year-old woman got divorced a few months before the pandemic. Her children are in college so therefore she is also an empty nester. She was sad but coping relatively well until the pandemic hit. That was when she felt her world was flipped upside down. Not only is she facing a pandemic, but she is facing it alone! Before the pandemic she was working and looked forward to water cooler chats and team lunches. After work and on weekends she would get together with friends for dinner, happy hours and other social events. She would still feel lonely at times but was adjusting to living life as a newly divorced woman. But, when the pandemic hit she started working from home and stopped seeing friends. She is alone 24 hours a day and is experiencing severe loneliness.
During the 2020 holiday season, Angela spent her first Christmas and New Years' by herself. Angela did not want to surround herself with her immediate family due to the fear of COVID. Angela tries to keep herself busy by baking or watching television but it is not enough to make the loneliness disappear. Angela has gained 15 pounds from overeating and alcohol became her new best friend. . Angela spends her mornings waking up with panic attacks because she is afraid of her future. Angela spends most of her nights eating dinner by herself. Most of her friends have a difficult time understanding where she is coming from since none of them have gone through a messy divorce.
Angela just cannot shake the feeling! Days seem to drag by for Angela and she doesn't want to feel this way anymore. She cannot stand sitting in silence and needs to find ways to distract herself. She just wishes the feeling of loneliness and depression would just stop. Angela is struggling with where her life will go next. All Angela is craving is interaction and socialization. Angela recognizes that something needs to change with her life.
Loneliness does not have to be this terrible crushing feeling. But how do you turn such a heavy feeling? If you look at loneliness as a dark cloud, then that is how you will react to it. Here are some ways to cope with your loneliness:
1. Embrace the feeling of being alone: Do not try to distract yourself from the loneliness. Instead, acknowledge that you are feeling alone and try to accept it. Instead of occupying your time with cleaning and running errands, embrace your quiet time. Choose something that allows you to be in silence. Take a walk in nature or sit on your front porch and watch the sunset.
2. Take yourself on fun dates: This could be your time to get to know yourself. It is your time to invest your energy back into yourself. Ask yourself what it is that you like to do and go do it! Maybe you could take yourself on a virtual yoga date or a virtual painting date. You do not have to feel lonely when you are alone.
3. Learn something new: People tend to feel empowered when they gain knowledge. What are you passionate about? Take an on line course... better yet, do it with a friend. A friend of mine is taking a Hebrew course with her childhood friend and they attend online services together every Friday night.
4. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable: Let's face it, being alone is sometimes uncomfortable, especially if you are an extrovert. You probably notice couples holding hands or families eating dinner together which makes you feel even lonelier. We need to recognize uncomfortable feelings as they arise. Once we recognize our feeling of loneliness we start to regain our power.
5. Correct your bad habits: Being alone is a time to invest in yourself. You might recognize that drinking alcohol every couple of days is a bad habit and preventing you from any personal growth. Try to kick that habit to the curb by replacing it with something healthier.
6. Rearrange your life: When you are alone, it is easy to fall into a pattern. During this pandemic you might feel that things rarely change. In order to keep things moving, try to rearrange what is in your control. Consider rearranging your furniture or painting a room in your house!
7. Volunteer your time: It might be a great time to contribute to something positive. If you like animals, consider volunteering at your local animal. Get involved at your local library and give back to your community. This can give you a general sense of belonging.
8. Connect: Reach out to friends and family through video platforms to continue meaningful relationship. Besides just chatting, you can get creative...play a game or perhaps take a cooking class together!
9. Consider therapy: Having an outlet will be helpful. Speaking to a professional about your loneliness could make you feel less alone. Therapy can motivate you to set small goals with yourself.
If you are feeling more lonely lately, you are not the only one. We are always here to help.
Risa Simpson-Davis, LCSW