How to Cope with Loneliness During the Coronavirus Pandemic
By Arlin Cuncic and Reviewed by Amy Morin, LCSW
Updated on March 27, 2020
Are you unsure how to cope with loneliness during the coronavirus pandemic? You could be self-isolating because you've caught the infection, but there are many other reasons why you've elected to stay indoors.
Whether you are quarantined due to suspected exposure, staying home because you are in a high-risk category, or at home to help prevent the spread of infection, you may find yourself unprepared for the feelings of loneliness that will likely follow.
While those with chronic illness may already be familiar with what it's like to face long periods of time alone at home, most of us are used to getting out daily; even those who are retired or don't work usually make trips to run errands or visit friends. To have all of that stop suddenly is jarring, to say the least.
Loneliness and Social Isolation
A 2017 systematic review of 40 studies from 1950 to 2016 published in the journal Public Health1 found a significant association between social isolation and loneliness and poorer mental health outcomes as well as all-cause mortality.
For this reason, it's important to take care of your mental health during times of decreased social interactions.
It's normal to feel stress when faced with staying indoors and interacting less with people, especially when that is added to the underlying stress of worrying whether you will catch the virus. These factors could increase your chances of developing a mental health issue, like anxiety or depression.
While social distancing refers to avoiding large gatherings of people, staying a certain distance from others in public, and only going out of the house for essentials, it can still start to feel a lot like "cabin fever." You might also feel stigmatized if you are isolated because you've contracted the virus or you suspect you may have contracted the virus.
What's the best way to get through this period of isolation? There are many strategies that you can employ to ensure your well-being and good mental health. Most of these involve either finding ways to distract yourself (keep busy) or finding ways to connect with others (despite the circumstances).
Distraction works to help you avoid ruminating about everything that is wrong, which is a risk factor for becoming depressed. In this way, taking on little projects or finding other forms of distraction can help to keep your mood level.
In contrast, staying social in non-traditional ways can help you to feel less isolated and combat loneliness.
If you are unable to go places or interact socially with many people at this time, you might be wondering what you can do. Below are some ideas on how to manage your feelings of loneliness during these times.
Keep to a Schedule
Even if you are isolated at home, try to keep to a regular schedule as much as possible. While loneliness can feel like it will never end, trying to make these days feel as "normal" as possible will help you to get through.
Start each day with a plan of a few things that you will do, keep a daily diary about how you are feeling and what you are doing, and keep a symptom log if you are managing illness. All of these tracking systems will help you to feel like you are being proactive about the situation.
In a 2020 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health2 , an online survey of 1210 respondents from 194 cities in China showed that people who had up to date health information and advice on precautionary measures had better psychological functioning and resilience.
While you do not want to feed your anxiety and fear through constant updates about the state of the virus, keeping up to date on the latest advice and health information may give you an edge when it comes to protecting your mental health (and as a result, reducing the impact of loneliness).
Limit your media consumption to an extent. Watching too much news, reading too many articles, and consuming too much content can be overwhelming. You might decide to check the news twice a day. Or you might decide to limit your time on social media if everyone is talking about the virus. Make sure you seek sites that give factual information about what you can do to stay healthy, such as the CDC and WHO.
While it's easy to focus exclusively on how to manage your mental health and loneliness directly during a crisis, we sometimes forget that our physical and mental health are delicately intertwined.
If you spend weeks of isolation not getting any exercise, this will have a detrimental effect on your ability to cope mentally. Below are some ideas of at-home activities that you can keep doing to stay active.
- Practice Tai Chi, yoga, or at-home low impact workouts by following Youtube videos
- Go for walks around your neighborhood (or walk on a treadmill if you have one and are concerned about going outside)
Do Something Meaningful
Another contributor to feelings of loneliness can be a loss of sense of meaning. If you are finding that you feel not just bored, but also as though you are losing your sense of self, then a loss of meaning might be affecting you.
All of us want to feel like we belong and that our life has importance, which is why incorporating meaningful activities into each day is important. Doing something meaningful each day, even if only for a short period, will give you a sense of purpose and identity.
Only you know what will create meaning in your life, but below are some ideas to get you started:
- Sign up for an online course and do a bit of work each day
- Create a family tree using genealogy websites
- Sign up to be an online volunteer through the United Nations
Connect With Others
Perhaps the best thing you can do to combat loneliness during this period of isolation is to connect with others in non-traditional ways. While you may not be able to visit with family and friends in person, that does not mean that you cannot connect.
Family & Friends
Can you think of any out-of-the-box ways to stay in contact with friends and family? If you are comfortable using technology, there are numerous ways you can stay in touch. If you prefer more traditional ways of communicating, there are still options for you. Below are some ideas to stay in touch with your loved ones.
- Send a handwritten letter or postcard
- Call someone on the telephone (particularly on days you are feeling lonely)
- Place calls using video chat services like Facetime or Zoom
- Post on social media or respond to other's posts on social media
- Stay in touch by texting or instant messenger
In addition to staying in touch with family and friends, you can also combat loneliness by participating in online exchanges with other people around the world. These don't need to necessarily be your online "friends," but rather those with whom you share something in common and you communicate online.
Below are some examples of online connections that you can make.
- Joining and participating in Facebook groups about topics you are interested in
- Signing up for online forums about your hobbies or interests
- Joining and playing Multiplayer games such as Wordfeud
- Signing up for online sports games like Fantasy Football
- Joining QuarantineChat, a service specifically set up to help people connect during quarantine
Find Sources of Comfort
Finding ways to give yourself comfort even when you are feeling lonely can help to improve your mental health. Below are some ideas of "comfort measures" that you can take even if you are alone.
- Give yourself a foot massage or use a foot spa
- Take a bath
- Focus on your pet
- Cook healthy comfort food
- Watch favorite TV shows or read favorite books
- Have a cup of herbal tea (chamomile will help you to relax)
- Light scented candles (lavender will help to reduce stress)
- Practice sleep hygiene to make sure you are getting enough rest
There's a reason why artists enjoy becoming swept away by their work. Expressing yourself through creative means can be therapeutic, whether it involves painting, writing, dancing, etc.
If you're finding it hard to express what you are feeling, channeling your feelings into creating something can be cathartic. In addition, when you create something you enter the "creative magic zone," which can be a form of meditation in itself.
Below are a few lists of projects that you could try.
- Practice writing in a journal each day
- Take up hand lettering or calligraphy
- Start a daily blog journaling your experiences for others to read
- Write poetry or Haiku
- Write short stories or start the novel you've always wanted to write
- Complete a paint-by-number project
- Start a needlework, knitting, or crochet project
- Compile a photo album that you can share later with others
- Work on an adult coloring book
- Take up a new hobby like jewelry making
- Take up origami
- Choose a space in your home and start an organizing project
- Choose a room in your home and redecorate by moving things around or moving things from other rooms
If you're having trouble coming up with projects, focus on the ones that you can do with what you already have on hand. Most of us will have a notebook, paper, printer, and access to the Internet.
Using those few basic tools, you're sure to find something online to get you started. You could even focus on culinary arts and focus on cooking or baking projects.
Another way to boost your mental health is to find healthy distractions. This might come in the form of reading, watching shows, listening to music, or finding other activities that interest you. Below are some ideas to help.
- Go back and re-read some of your favorite childhood books
- Join an online book club like the ones at Goodreads
- Give yourself a reading challenge by choosing a list of books you've always wanted to read or a list based on a theme (e.g., books all set in places you've always wanted to visit)
- Read books of poetry if you find it too hard to concentrate on longer books
- Read magazines on topics that interest you
- Listen to audiobooks through services like Audible or Scribd if you struggle to read or have vision problems
- Watch TED talks on Youtube about topics that interest you
- Watch a series of movies on a theme (comedy movies will help to ease your stress)
- Watch a television series on Netflix
- Watch documentaries on topics you've wanted to catch up on
- Listen to podcasts on topics you like
Create or Listen to Music
- Go back and listen to your favorite songs from when you were a teenager
- Create a playlist of happy songs and listen to those
- Plan an instrument such as the piano or guitar
Other Fun Ideas
- Take a virtual tour: Many museums offer digital access to their collections including the Louvre and Guggenheim
- Play games that engage your mind such as Sudoku, crossword puzzles, solitaire, or online chess.
Plan for the Future
While it might feel like this loneliness will last forever, there will come a time that you'll be back to your usual routines. One way to feel less alone now is to make plans for the future or do things that help you to focus on the future. Below are some ideas.
- Make a "future list" of all the things you want to do
- Order online and plant some spring bulbs
- Plan a fun event for when you are out of isolation
- Make a bucket list of things to do in your lifetime
- Make a "goals" list for some area of your life
Practice Self Compassion
Most importantly, practice self-compassion during this difficult time. If you find yourself saying things like "I shouldn't be feeling this way" or pushing away difficult emotions, this will only make your loneliness persist.
Instead of resisting your feelings, instead, find ways to be accepting of them as coming and going. This helps to take away their power and ease your unhappiness.
Remember that your feelings will change. If you are still struggling, try practicing guided meditation following a Youtube video.
Show Compassion to Others
It might seem counterintuitive, but if you are struggling yourself, sometimes offering help to others who are feeling lonely can make you feel less lonely yourself. Make a phone call, send a text, send a letter, or comment on someone's social media posts. Be supportive and offer words of encouragement.
Coping as an Older Adult
Older adults (aged 65+) may be particularly susceptible to loneliness during coronavirus. This group is most likely to self-isolate due to fear of infection, while also potentially having fewer supports in place to feel less lonely. The Baby Boomers, in particular, may be the most affected by this pandemic. Older adults can stave off loneliness during this time in the following ways:
- Make phone calls to relatives on a regular schedule, so that they can check in with you and learn about your needs.
- Ask for help from family members when you need it and be specific about how they can help.
- Check to see if your community offers specific shopping hours for seniors so that you can shop for food during low-risk times when absolutely necessary.
A Word From Verywell
If you find yourself with very poor mental health while isolated during coronavirus and aren't able to pull yourself out of feelings of anxiety, depression, or fear, it is important to reach out for help. Consider calling a crisis line or an online therapy service to find out about options. While it's normal to feel afraid and lonely at a time like this, worsening mental health could indicate the need for outside help.
How to Talk to Your Kids About Coronavirus (From Verywell Family)
How to Transition To Online Therapy (From Verywell Mind)
What to Do in a Pandemic (From Verywell Health)
How to Wash Your Hands (From Verywell Health)
New Crafts to Try (From The Spruce)
What Are Coronavirus Scams (From Lifewire)