Ask the experts: How can I cope with isolation during lockdown?

We’re living in a time where many of us are facing feelings of isolation and loneliness. Despite being a common problem, some of us won’t have experienced such feelings. Until now. Whether you’re isolating at home with friends or family, or if you’re isolating alone right now, you may be struggling with lack of human contact.

Young woman sat on a sofa working on laptop

So, how can we manage these feelings? Counselling psychologist, Dr Daniela Hecht, answers your questions.

I’m feeling very isolated right now, what can I do?

This is a challenging time, especially for outgoing people who like to socialise. Wanting to connect to others and be in their physical presence is what usually gets us going, so needing to be socially distant probably feels like the opposite of what you need in these uncertain times.

Just because you’re not allowed to see friends and family in person doesn’t mean you can’t see them at all. Thanks to the internet there are lots of ways to connect – try a Zoom catch up over virtual brunch or a movie night from the comfort of your sofa. Catch up with your best friend over FaceTime and give your family a call.

This is a good time to be imaginative, so try and find a way to bring your social circle near even if you can’t be physically close. When you need a break from screens, open a window to see if one of your neighbours is around – have you ever introduced yourself? Perhaps you can help each other out in little ways and once this is over you might have made some new friends along the way.”

I live alone and am missing physical touch, is this normal?

Missing physical touch when you are living alone is a completely normal phenomenon. We are social creatures and physical touch is part of that interaction. Although many people who live on their own experience isolation regularly, these challenging times highlight the sense of loneliness that comes from not being able to physically get close to someone else.

There are ways that may help you soothe that need for physical contact however, such as reaching out to friends and family. Seeing them via video may not be the same as seeing them in person, but it can help to alleviate that sense of isolation.

If talking to friends and family doesn’t provide you with the kind of physical comfort you crave then give yourself a hug or sit in a nice hot bath. Pamper yourself with a self-massage, lather on that luxurious lotion you’ve been saving for a special occasion and wrap yourself in your favourite blanket to give yourself that feeling of physical comfort.”

Two friends sitting together and drawing

My partner and I don’t live together and I’m finding it really difficult. How can we keep our connection while we’re separated?

“Not being able to be with your partner in these difficult times must be really challenging. But just because you aren’t physically close, that doesn’t mean that you can’t be connected emotionally. Not being in the same space just means you may have to work harder to maintain that emotional closeness.

Communication is key – try and share what’s going on for you, talk about your fears and share your day. If you usually have meals together then try and keep this up, have breakfast via Zoom, check-in throughout the day and spend some time in the evening to recap.

You may find that you’re getting closer even though you’re not in the same space because you’re not taking for granted that you know what the other is doing or thinking.”

I’m a little worried certain social distancing behaviours are going to stick in my mind when this is over, do you have any thoughts on how I can avoid this?

These are unprecedented times, with uncertainty about how long these social distancing behaviours will go on for and what will come after. It’s unclear how we will behave once we go back to ‘normal’ and what indeed ‘normality’ will be.

I think being aware of your worry is a good thing as it indicates that you don’t want to be isolating from people long-term. Bearing that in mind will help you make conscious decisions to reach out to people and not get stuck in isolating behaviour once you don’t have to do it anymore.”

3 Tips for those craving connection

  • Remember this is temporary, this social isolation will end, you will be able to see your friends and family again.
  • Make use of the internet and social media – just because you can’t meet people in person doesn’t mean you can’t see them on other platforms, this is a time to be imaginative.
  • Be old-fashioned, write a letter, stick your head out of the window and connect to a neighbour, wave to someone across the street and speak to a stranger who shares a queue with you.

Dr Daniela Hecht is a chartered counselling psychologist, EMDR therapist, University lecturer and clinical supervisor.

This article was originally published in Happiful Magazine (June 2020). You can order print copies online, or read the e-magazine for free on the Happiful app. 

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Written by Kat Nicholls
Kat is a Content Producer for Memiah and writer for Counselling Directory and Happiful magazine.
Written by Kat Nicholls
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