Tackling loneliness in lockdown
Loneliness has been around long before COVID-19 showed up. Loneliness, already seen as widespread in our society, has been exacerbated by the pandemic and subsequent lockdown.
What is the difference between social isolation and loneliness?
Social isolation is a physical separation from other people, but loneliness is the subjective distressed feeling of being alone/separated. So, it is possible to feel lonely whilst with other people and also to be alone and not feel lonely.
However, loneliness is not only a feeling. It is also a biological warning from your body to seek out other people. Human connections are important to survive and thrive, of which your body is aware.
Social distancing and self-isolation have resulted in an increased number of people feeling lonely. And it seems it has reinforced the sense of loneliness people have been struggling to deal with, whilst also social distancing. Perhaps it is not surprising that people have reported having nightmares and trouble sleeping; studies show that anxiety and stress increase the risk of disturbed sleep. Trauma and upsetting events can have a similar effect.
People depend on a routine for good mental health and, when this is disrupted, there is a real chance of mental health issues becoming embedded. Now that the world is showing signs of lifting restrictions, there is a worry there will be large numbers of people who will be experiencing mental health issues as this crisis impacts on their ability to cope with the world they are re-entering.
I believe we can find ways to strengthen our inner selves, to tune in and ask ourselves what we want in these times of unprecedented change. If we listen to our intuition, we can take a different approach - one which is based on information we have gathered by using our awareness.
We can become resourceful and trust in our inner selves, not be misled by others. We can keep our minds free to cope at times of crisis.
Can we talk ourselves into loneliness?
In a world which promotes socialising and being 'present' and getting noticed on social media, we may have an uncomfortable feeling that we don't quite measure up. Perhaps we are exhausted from trying to have a happier, better life. So, we stay stuck and disconnected - even from ourselves.
Despite our efforts and even if good things are happening, we may continue to consider ourselves to be 'bad', 'unworthy' or 'a failure'. We can feel pressured to be part of something - when we feel anything but.
You need to press the pause button and listen to what you say to yourself. Chances are it's negative. Do you say you are a failure, a fake even? Do you worry that people will discover this? Are you full of self-doubt? If so, that thought - which could become a belief - may continue to hold you back.
Reframe how you see yourself
Sometimes the way we see ourselves can be traced back to our upbringing. Whatever the reason, the way we see ourselves now keeps us stuck and entrenched. However, if we can become curious about our failures and identify the patterns, we can help ourselves to gain some understanding and some control over our lives.
Treat failure as feedback. It is less threatening to ask ourselves questions such as, "How did things get like this? When did I start feeling like this? What will happen if I do things differently? What is stopping me doing what I want?"
It can be good to have our thinking challenged by someone before our negative thoughts become embedded and all the harder to dislodge. Talking to a good friend or therapist who is trained to actively listen can help put things in perspective.
Taking one day at a time can make things more manageable. You have had a bad day; look closely as there are likely to be some good things which have taken place. We just have to search and be aware. Tune in and turn up the volume on the small things. Take notice of feedback in all its forms, and if something is not working, try something different.
Cast your mind back. What have you achieved? How did it feel? How does it feel now? Relive that positive feeling, don't just think about it. Acknowledge your negative thoughts, identify the triggers, then aim to replace them with positive ones. It takes time and work, but it can be done.
What kind of internal dialogue will help?
Consider people you know who affirm you, people you don't know but look up to, people whose skills and behaviour you'd like to emulate. You can 'carry' these folk with you in your mind as you go through your day.
At the end of each day, you may find it helpful to reflect on what you liked about yourself today? What triggered those feelings and how can you use them again? We all have faults, so sometimes it can be helpful to focus on them. If we accept that our action serves some kind of purpose, what do you think this fault is trying to achieve for you?
It is only when we are solid enough in our sense of self, are we in a position to share and compromise with others.
This forms the basis for ongoing conversations that are integral to friendship, productive work relationships and intimacy. It may then be possible to reach out for others. It can be challenging at first. Hopefully, it will just be that bit easier now that you have recalled a time when you felt good.
Challenge your self-talk
Now we are aware of our own thoughts, we can challenge them. So, instead of focusing on our own anxieties, we can focus on the other person - if you are interested in them, they are likely to reciprocate. You are letting them know you are listening, taking the pressure off yourself. This is a way to build relationships.
At this time, a lot of people need help. If you are choosing to stay within your own four walls, there are those who are unable to leave their home and would welcome outside contact. Or if you feel more comfortable at home, there are plenty of opportunities to connect online. Joining a forum and just observing the chat is another way to ease your way in to start connecting.
It's a start. The more we can call on our awareness and identify our thought patterns, the better we will be able to choose how we are going to deal with the crisis in our midst and its aftermath and feel part of something bigger than ourselves.