It can feel daunting to be on lockdown alone during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, there are strategies to help you cope and, in some ways, even thrive.
Americans, and people in many other countries, too, have found themselves in a previously almost unthinkable situation — strict curfews, lockdowns and quarantines due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. Whatever the exact situation, most of us, unless our work is considered “essential,” have been forced to curtail all, or almost all, activities outside our homes.
While many couples and families are on lockdown and sheltering in place together, other people are in a situation making them even more isolated: They are single and living alone.
Even if you are normally perfectly happy with your single life, this is a whole new ball game with new rules — no regular dating, no parties, no going to the movies or a concert, no meeting a friend for lunch. So, it’s not unusual to experience stress from the change in lifestyle and the challenges of social isolation.
What’s more, constantly hearing and reading about potential dire outcomes of the highly infectious novel coronavirus can spike anxiety.
Sure, countless other people are weathering the pandemic alone, too. But that isn’t enough to help individuals’ situations and fears. Instead, you need to consider specific strategies that can help you connect with others and lower stress. After all, emotional and mental health is important and can impact physical well-being, too.
Firsthand advice from a single person on lockdown
Nadine Kaslow, PhD, is professor and vice chair of psychiatry and behavioral services at Emory University School of Medicine, chief psychologist of Grady Health System, and former president of the American Psychological Association. She is also a single person and weathering social distancing and, like countless other Americans, spending time alone in lockdown.
So, her advice comes from not only her mental health expertise but also firsthand experience as she lives isolated from friends, family, and colleagues, too.
“Personally, I have gone through different phases while this has occurred. At first, I intellectually understood what was happened and spent a lot of time preparing by buying groceries that will last and items that make my home more comfortable to be in 24/7,” she says.
Then the reality of her new situation hit.
“After the first few days, there are times when the days started to bleed together and/or I get lonely, which comes back in smaller waves. However, allowing myself to sit with my emotions and accept that it is normal to feel lonely also allows it to pass or become easier to tolerate,” Kaslow adds.
She’s found keeping a regular schedule for sleeping and getting up at the same time each morning is helpful. “I also make sure to plan fun things for myself that will engage me, such as planting an herb garden. This upcoming weekend I am going to try and do my own nails, and the exercise bike I ordered will arrive. Down the line I plan to be intentional about trying new recipes and various do-it-yourself projects. “
“Ultimately, I view this as a time to deepen the relationship with myself and my community in new ways. Journaling and meditation are activities I’ve been incorporating more. I also video chat with different friends and family members throughout the week,” she adds.
Bottom line: Be pro-active with strategies for coping and connecting
Remember, if you are feeling down and lonely that’s ok, in the sense it’s normal in this new and often strange situation. But don’t hesitate to reach out for help from a therapist, if needed. More insurance companies are covering telemedicine costs, including teletherapy for mental health, Kaslow notes, so check with your provider.
And there are ways to boost your mood and feel connected, even when physically isolated, by finding ways to communicate and share interests and feelings with family and old and new friends.
“Recognize that being on lockdown is hard and that humans need interaction. Recognize that you may be able to offer something to help others by reaching out, and that can help you, too,” Kaslow says. “Do you have an older family member? Call daily and read a book out loud. Do you have young nieces or nephews? Call them regularly and read them a story or tell them a joke. “
If your find anxiety and feelings of depression are triggered by the near constant barrage of news about the pandemic, put yourself on a schedule and watch the news only at certain times.
If that’s difficult for you, Kaslow advises using apps designed to limit your news watching. And have a “buddy system” with a good friend — agree what news you will both read and watch, and when. Then arrange for a regular time to talk and process the news together.
Remember, while keeping up on developments about COVID-19 spread and advances in diagnosis and treatment is important, there’s much more in the world you can focus on.
“Cultivate community by finding an online group of people who share your passions or are coping with a similar situation,” Kaslow advises. “Use these connections to engage around what matters most to you.”
Kaslow offers these suggestions to connect with others:
- The UnLonely Film Festival features 35 short films to inspire, enlighten, and inform and an online community, Stuck at Home (Together), with resources and tools to encourage creative projects and social connections, as well as tips on de-stressing while on lockdown.
- Try live-stream classes with local exercise and yoga studios that allow you to exercise alongside others, virtually, at a distance.
- Join platforms such as Ikaria, which hosts online events (including music, wellness, leadership, and more), and invite a friend to join you at the event, virtually.
- Find an online book club, participate, and share your opinions.
- Invite family and friends to playing online games, like those offered at House Party, which allow you to play games while video chatting with friends and family.
Lockdown isn’t fun, but it can have bright spots
There are countless ways to entertain yourself, thanks to technology — online games, lessons, and movies. You can also pursue creative pursuits, including drawing and painting and playing a musical instrument.
Have you had an idea for a business plan or a website but put it on the backburner? Being in lockdown is an opportunity to work on your project and make it a reality. In fact, using this time alone to take on any projects you’ve put off for a long time, like organizing photos and books and rearranging your furniture, can give you a sense of accomplishment, Kaslow notes.
Pets be great company and help you beat feelings of isolation (consider fostering or adopting, if you are an animal lover).
Of course, the sweetest fur kids aren’t substitutes for human contact and, for singles used to dating, that can be an extra source of stress. But, surprisingly, there may be a positive side to virtual dating while on lockdown.
“I'm hearing from some young single people who are using this as an opportunity to get out of the hook-up culture. They are having Facetime dates and watching Netflix movies together virtually, Kaslow says. “It’s a great way to get to know people at a distance first, before eventually meeting.”
April 15, 2020