Coping with Loneliness in a Pandemic (or just in life in general)

Use your mind for you, not against you

By Jessica Militello

Before all this pandemic stuff descended into our lives, people were already struggling as a society with loneliness. According to a study by Cigna in January 2020, 3 in 5 Americans feel lonely. With the pandemic, most people have struggled with feeling even more isolated.

If the monotony of pandemic life has been bringing you down-please know it is normal to feel lonely, bored, angry, sad, worried about when the fuck this is all going to end, and wanting to return to a normal life.

We may not always be in control of what happens to us, but we can control how we think and feel about it, and take steps to better our situation, at least for the sake of our mental health and peace. In light of my own feelings in dealing with all of this, I thought I could try to help others by compiling a list of actions and ideas to help you to deal with similar feelings, many of which can apply to loneliness in general, whether there’s a pandemic or not.

  1. Acknowledge your feelings, be understanding that this is not a normal time, and have some compassion for yourself

I’m not sure if anyone expected some quick fix “make all your troubles go away” type of article, but if that’s what you’re looking for, it doesn’t exist. It’s okay to just acknowledge everything is fucked up right now. What does denying this do for you? Let me tell you something about pushing feelings down- it doesn’t work. Why? Because all you did was store them away for a later date. You can’t run from yourselves, ladies and gentlemen. There’s an episode of the original Twilight Zone called “Stopover in a Quiet Town,” where a couple find themselves in this perfect-suburbia neighborhood and it is completely empty, creepy as fuck, and they have no idea how they got there and all they want to do is leave wherever the fuck it is that they are. Toward the end of the episode they find a train station, they get on the train and they’re super-excited that they’re escaping this nightmare of a creepy, empty town where there’s no one there, only to lift the shades in their window seat to realize they didn’t actually go anywhere. They thought they were going somewhere because they were moving and guess what? They went in a big ass circle and ended up exactly where they started. Now where am I going with that very long run-on sentence of a story? That is you every time you feel an uncomfortable feeling that you don’t like and don’t want to deal with, so you run from it. It comes out eventually. It spills out when something or someone random upsets you and you flip the fuck out over what may have been frustrating or annoying but wasn’t actually that big of a deal, or when you date someone new but you still carry around the hurt from your last relationship because you pushed it down, and everything you feel in your new relationship, happy or sad scares you, so you run. Feelings are information, they tell you something so you can learn about yourself, grow, and better yourself. There is a lot going on right now in the world in general-A LOT. Which brings me to my next point.

2. Reevaluate the role that social media is playing for you and your thoughts-adjust accordingly.

I have very strong feelings about how stupid and pointless I think it is to spend time curating your life to appear a certain way to not only friends and family, but acquaintances, people who feel neutral about you, exes, and complete fucking strangers, instead of spending the time focusing on yourself and doing things that truly add to your happiness. There is definitely a way to curate your Instagram so that you are getting fun, interesting, and helpful information, but if you are mindlessly scrolling, comparing yourself to others, then I would suggest at least seriously minimizing the amount of time you spend daily on it. I personally deleted my Instagram for almost a year before I got back on, and the way I use it now is so different to the past when I was unhappy with myself and using it when I was bored or seeking validation. There are plenty of apps that can help you with time management with your phone use. You can even set a timer and when it runs out, okay, back to reality-literally. Especially during a pandemic, with increased anxiety, depression, and worry- minding other people’s curated business is not doing anything good for you.

3. Stop waiting for people to reach out to you and throwing a pity party for one when it doesn’t happen

When we feel lonely all of our interactions or lack thereof are put under a microscope thanks to the annoying inner critic in our head that likes to play detective to prove its point to us about how not important and forgotten we really are. Don’t play this game with yourself and then get mad at everyone else for how you made yourself feel. It goes a little something like this- we feel lonely, have critical thoughts about how we aren’t good enough, we think of people that we’d like to talk to, and then when they somehow don’t telepathically see our bat call to reach out, we feel badly and it makes us feel more lonely. What you are looking for is validation from others-validation that you matter, are important, and have value. This is a big fucking mistake because you are putting your worth in the eyes of others. Have you lived on that roller coaster before? I have- when people validated me, I felt amazing, when they didn’t, I felt inadequate and would find other ways to fill my voids. First and foremost, lonely in a pandemic, or just lonely on a Friday night, you have to realize you matter, you are important, and you belong- whether you are spending time by yourself or you’re in a room filled with 20 people. If you don’t feel good about you when you’re alone, those same doubts will be your plus-one at an amazing party (when we’re allowed to have one of those again.) This is something you can evaluate and focus on with that time you freed up from using Instagram so much. However, I’m taking you a bit into the weeds on self-worth, so let me bring you back around to the subject. As soon as you get out of your head about needing other people’s validation- if you’re lonely and want to talk, well, God damn, pick up your phone and text, call, or video chat with a friend. Are they someone who majority of the time answers, reciprocates, and enjoys your conversation? -well, there you go. Listen- there’s a difference between someone who isn’t necessarily the first person to be blowing up your phone with calls and texts, and someone who just feels neutral about you or disinterested. Listen to your gut-you will know the difference. And if you notice that if you never reach out to them, they don’t reach out to you and you have feelings about that, then that’s fine too. This is your life-you are allowed to have thoughts about something and change your mind. You are allowed to think, “hey if I don’t call this person, they never call me, maybe I’ll leave them alone because I don’t like the way it makes me feel.”  And if you never hear from them again- well, there’s your answer. It doesn’t make them a bad person, and it doesn’t mean you don’t matter. It simply is- wish them the best and leave them be. But purposely isolating yourself because you want the ego boost from others to reach out first-NO-so pick up the phone and connect with your friends when you’re craving a chat.

4. Well- you sent that text, made that call, but they just didn’t have time for you at the moment

Uh-oh. Looks like it’s just you and your thoughts again. Now what? Well, since we’re not gonna take this as an excuse to mindlessly scroll on Instagram, maybe it’s time to grab a pen and paper and spend a little time getting to know…… (cue dramatic music) …yourself. I know, I know-sounds so boring, right? I don’t know, does it? When’s the last time you did something like this? Grade school? Never? -Okay, seriously. Make a list of really cool things you always wanted to do, you know- those random passing thoughts that you have from time to time of things you’d like to try but ultimately ignore, like learning a new language, starting that blog, watching that movie that you didn’t get to see when it first came out, starting a garden, listening to that crime podcast you thought sounded interesting, but never listened to. You get the idea here- what about things you enjoyed doing but stopped for any list of reasons? Painting, drawing, dancing? The things you bring up when someone asks what you like to do in your free time that you mention you once did but have some completely bullshit excuse of about why you stopped because you’re too embarrassed to admit that aside from work and other obligations it’s basically fucking nothing? Yeah that stuff. A pandemic can’t stop you from doing any of these things, even if it’s fitness-related, because there are many places offering free outdoor classes, livestreams, and zoom classes too. There’s many options here to keep your mind occupied. What about an event, a time in history, a topic that you were always curious about? Again-podcasts, movies, documentaries, books, and YouTube are available on pretty much every subject.

5. The great outdoors

Sometimes you gotta bring it back to basics. These days people feel a need to be doing the most fun, super exciting “Instagram-able” thing and it’s just not realistic. What did people do with their lives before all this technology and perpetual big-brotherness of watching each other’s lives via our phones? When was the last time you watched the sunset, or got up early enough to watch the sunrise, or the moonrise at night? Go for a bike ride, visit some of your local museums and parks that you never go to, get some binoculars, try some bird-watching, or star gazing, or just take a long walk and say hello to the strangers you pass by. It’s amazing how a small gesture like that can make you feel more connected. Stop and start up a conversation-plenty of people are dying for an in-person connection, and if they don’t reciprocate, that’s okay too-keep it moving.

6. Take care of your mental health

Now some of you aren’t going to want to hear it, but I don’t give a fuck. These are pressing times-therapy can help. We are probably the most accepting generation of actually dealing with, acknowledging, and taking care of our mental health through therapy, whether in-person, via the phone, texting, therapy apps, whatever works for you. The older generations didn’t have this open dialogue and acceptance of talking about and taking care of their mental health. You would never hear friends or family even discussing it to each other let alone over lunch at a restaurant. People are inside a lot, working from home, literally only working then going home, not able to see older or sick family members to reduce risk of getting them sick, out of work, what ever, you know the deal, there’s a lot happening. And if you don’t have a non-judgmental outlet for these thoughts, then please see bullet point 1 again for the result. Talk to a really compassionate, non-judgmental friend or family member,  or a therapist, journal your thoughts (seriously-daily or almost daily journaling has changed my life), but do not keep everything bottled up, or minimize your feelings and judge yourself by saying others have it worse. You’re right, others do have it worse. But if your arm was broken, would you not go to the hospital because other people who are there are suffering more or dying? No- you would get help because you having a broken arm and someone else dying are two completely separate things. Someone else having it worse doesn’t mean you don’t need help. I can give you all the tips and advice to find ways to quell loneliness, but the heavier stuff that you have to deal with is up to you.

I really hope, in the very least, this article helped someone to feel seen, know that they aren’t alone in dealing with loneliness, and have some compassion for themselves in what they’re feeling. It can be unsettling to feel isolated and alone with our thoughts and worries, but you do matter, you aren’t alone, and even though we can’t always control our circumstances, we can control how we choose to handle it. Acknowledge your feelings and take the opportunity to strengthen the relationship you have with yourself so that whether you are alone, with tons of friends, single, or in a relationship, you feel valued, important, and loved, because you already give these things to yourself and other people in your life only enhance that- they are never the sole source or provider of this. Being alone doesn’t cause loneliness, rather our expectations, thoughts, and feelings on being alone causes loneliness. But being around others also doesn’t necessarily make us feel better-it is still our thoughts and feelings about ourselves that will make us feel connected or not. If you don’t feel good about yourself, even with others’ acceptance or love, you will always question it, or it will never feel enough, so no matter what-you always have to work on your self-esteem and self-worth. You may not always feel great about the situation, but at least you know you have tools to help yourself and not feel dependent on anyone else for happiness or value.