As most of the world experiences a lockdown to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, while some of us may find ourselves living with our loved ones, many amongst us may be struggling with loneliness arising from being confined indoors, away from loved ones. Research has reported that restricted social interaction leads to feeling isolated from the rest of the world and being bored or frustrated, causing the people to experience distress (Brooks et al., 2020).
Thus, it is important to address loneliness not just because it is an unpleasant state to be in, but also because it can impact our health and well-being.
How loneliness affects our health:
Klein (2020) attributes loneliness to a biological warning signal to seek out other humans and mentions that it seems to impact our health in the following two ways:
- People who feel lonely experience the same events as more severe and stressful. This has been shown to translate into cardiovascular functioning; specifically, tightening of the blood vessels and an increase in the amount of blood being pumped through the circulatory system has been observed, and
- Sleep gets affected gravely, to the extent that recovery rate slows down.
During the coronavirus pandemic, the loneliness signal may increase for many, with limited ways of alleviating it. While these researches have studied the effects of loneliness spanning over a long period of time, these make a good case for why it needs to be dealt with from the get-go before it impacts much of our life.
The current situation is definitely a breeding ground for fostering loneliness. Hence, tackling loneliness is essential for which, experts recommend the following:
- Understand that loneliness is a feeling, not a fact: Our brain is designed to rationalize feelings. Loneliness being one of them leads to thoughts such as “I am lonely because I am a loser and no one loves me.” Therefore, it is essential that one realizes that loneliness is an emotion triggered by present situations, instead of a fact that one is truly alienated from others. By doing this, we ensure that we don’t generalize these self-effacing thoughts to ourselves as a whole.
- Stay connected: Any semblance of human interaction, even that which is electronically fostered, will help relieve loneliness and anxiety. Do not shy away from contacting people. You may do so by connecting on video calls, creating virtual group activities such as having virtual movie nights, virtual dinners, playing online games and so on. Also, consider contacting old friends with whom you may have lost touch.
- Using social media: In previous outbreaks such as SARS and MERS, electronic communication was seen to play a key role in mitigating boredom. Use of social media for a limited time can help mitigate the boredom and loneliness. Particularly, social media could play an important part in establishing a line of contact with those far away from loved ones, and therefore, act as reassurance for each stakeholder.
- Join online support groups: Consider registering to online support groups catering to the specific situation of the COVID-19 outbreak. Here, you might meet others in similar situations and stressors. This will help dispense the feeling of loneliness. One such group is hosted by Mindspace (you may find it here: Online COVID-19 support group).
- Nurture your interests using online communities/platforms: There are various platforms that are creating online workshops or communities pertaining to different interests, hobbies such as cooking, performing music, etc. Engaging in activities of your interest along with like-minded people can help you stay socially connected while enhancing your skill set.
- Practice kindness: Be understanding towards the needs of people around you. You can help them by providing practical assistance in making food or other essentials available or providing emotional assistance. Be willing to share with those in need, especially elders as they may be feeling confused and lost, and may need help; offering to get the groceries, medicines and so on can go a long way. In doing so, one not only diverts one’s focus of attention from their loneliness to others but also engages in acts of altruism which gives rise to better psychological well-being and social connections.
- Express gratitude: Various studies have linked the importance of expressing gratitude in mitigating feelings of loneliness. This can be done by maintaining a journal or by expressing gratitude to those who have helped you in the past or are helping you now. This enhances social relationships and shifts the focus from what you don’t have, to what you have. Along with a gratitude journal, you may also write about the positive things that happened to you, or write letters to people who make you feel good. Expressing gratitude and the facets associated with gratitude have been linked with well-being as it elicits positive emotions such as happiness (Morgan, Gulliford, and Kristjánsson, 2017).
- Using therapeutic tools available online: Considering the current state of affairs, it is natural to experience a drop in your well-being due to the isolation, uncertainty, and stress. In such distressing times, various mental health platforms are providing resources that will help you manage anxiety and work through the panic and distress. Various mental health-related applications such as Wysa, Woebot, Joyable, and Talkspace function to help people deal with psychological issues including anxiety and stress. Many psychologists, in the context of the lockdown, have moved to the electronic space to provide therapy and counselling. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has also established a psycho-social helpline (08046110007) to help with such issues.
Most importantly, you can always connect to iCALL to reach out and seek help. Our details are as follows:
Call: 8369799513, 9372048501, 9920241248
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Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (2020). Minding our minds during the COVID-19. Retrieved from https://www.mohfw.gov.in/pdf/MindingourmindsduringCoronaeditedat.pdf on 6/04/2020.
P&T Community (2020). Combating Loneliness and Isolation in College Students During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Retrieved from https://www.ptcommunity.com/wire/combating-loneliness-and-isolation-college-students-during-covid-19-pandemic on 8/04/2020.
Brooks, S. K., Webster, R. K., Smith, L. E., Woodland, L., Wessely, S., Greenberg, N., & Rubin, G. J. (2020). The psychological impact of quarantine and how to reduce it: rapid review of the evidence, (The Lancet, 2020; 395; 912–920). Retrieved from