Mar 16, 2020
These are worrying, anxiety-inducing times we’re living in, particularly for people living with compromised immune systems, or with vulnerable loved ones. Social distancing is one of our most effective weapons that we can deploy right now — scientists say this tool can prevent the rapid spread of the virus. In the UK, anyone exhibiting flu-like symptoms has been ordered by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to self-isolate for seven days.
Many of us who are in a position to do so will be spending a lot more time at home over the coming weeks — maybe even months. For people unaccustomed to working or studying from home, this also represents a considerable lifestyle change.
But the prospect spending a protracted period of time away from other humans can also be quite daunting — especially if you live alone, are unable to visit loved ones, or are already experiencing loneliness. There’s officially a a loneliness epidemic in the UK, with 2.4 million adults reporting being lonely, according to a recent study by the Office for National Statistics. Combine this with anxiety and social distancing associated with the coronavirus, declared by the World Health Organisation as a pandemic, and we’ve got a bit of a problem.
Faced with what could become a period of unparalleled — albeit temporary — isolation, what can we do to combat loneliness?
Kate Shurety, executive director of the Campaign to End Loneliness, said that during this time many people will miss their family and friends, as well as taking part in their hobbies. “It shows how important friendship and connection are in our lives, and how difficult it can be when they’re missing,” she said. “Research shows that half a million older people regularly experience these kinds of protracted periods of isolation, going at least five or six days a week without seeing or speaking to anyone at all.”
Here are some tips and advice for ways to fight loneliness during this time. If you’re really struggling, Mind, the mental health charity, has some very useful resources if coronavirus is affecting your mental health and wellbeing.
Check in with elderly relatives, friends, and neighbours
For elderly members of society, hearing constant reminders on the news that they’re susceptible to a new life-threatening virus can be scary. Some nursing homes are beginning to restrict visitors — or ban them completely. Some younger people are taking the active decision to avoid contact with older relatives to avoid unwittingly passing on the virus to them. These moves could further exacerbate feelings of loneliness among our older population. So, what can we do to make older loved ones feel less alone?
Caroline Abrahams, Age UK charity director, told Mashable the coronavirus looks likely to be challenging for our older population. “That’s why it is more important than ever to be vigilant and look out for older friends, neighbours and relatives to make sure they’re okay,” said Abrahams. “If someone has been advised to self-isolate or is just worried about going out there are still plenty of things you can do to help like picking up some shopping or help by running some errands.” She added, “If it’s safe to do so you can pop in but you can also stay in touch over the phone, online or by post.”
Using Skype, FaceTime, and other types of video calls on a regular basis to speak with your elderly relatives and friends will be a valuable lifeline to the outside world. If video calls aren’t an option, phone them.
Older people and their families can call Age UK Advice free on 0800 169 65 65 to find out how the Age UK network can help someone who may be feeling lonely. The lines are open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., 365 days a year.
Fall back in love with the group chat
Listen, none of us can truly say we love the group chat. The non-stop notifications used to be difficult to keep up with. But things are a little different now.
Shurety, whose Campaign to End Loneliness aims to create connections between people of all ages, recommended creating WhatsApp groups with neighbours, family, and friends. “Share how you’re getting on and ask other people how they are,” she said.
If you’re working from home and missing your colleagues — or even just in need of a bit of office chitchat — you could set up a #wfh Slack channel and post photos of your pets or houseplants, or random updates about your day. Personally, I’ve been spamming my family group chat with silly viral videos to lighten the mood.
Get into voice notes
Voice notes are a real revelation. If you have long distance friendships or relationships, then the WhatsApp voice note is basically a godsend. If you have a strong aversion to making phone calls, then voice noting is a gentler alternative that allows you to start again if you trip over your words or say something awkward (I speak from personal experience). Don’t feel like you need to have something big or important to say in order to merit sending a voice note. Sometimes I send my friends 15-minute-long rambling chats about dreams I had and crushes I had when I was at school.
In Mind’s advice for staying home, it recommended actively finding something pop culture related to talk about. “If you’re worried that you might run out of stuff to talk about, make a plan with someone to watch a show or read a book separately so that you can discuss it when you contact each other,” reads the advice. Need some recommendations? Read some recommendations from women in the entertainment industry. Why not watch all the movies that got nominated for Oscars?
Just hearing a friendly voice will make you — or the recipient — feel a lot less alone.
Call your girlfriends
Shurety said that staying in touch with friends and family will “ease any feelings of loneliness you may experience.” That may sound like common sense, but it’s important to be proactive about it. If voice notes or texts aren’t cutting it, and you need a bit more of a back and forth, then call up someone you love and have a long chat.
In a special episode of the Is This Working podcast, freelance journalist Anna Codrea-Rado and writer Tiffany Philippou chatted about the loneliness that can come with working from home for protracted periods of time.
Philippou said when you’re planning your week, think about social interactions in advance to prevent loneliness before it sets in. “Call people, have people you reach out to, if you really miss your colleagues, ring them, do a video call,” she said. “Make sure you schedule regular interactions.”
If you don’t feel like you have any friends to call, or are not in touch with any family, you can call the Mind Infoline (0300 123 3393) or the Samaritans (116 123). There’s always someone to talk to.
Start a new project
Mind advised keeping your brain occupied and challenged — and making sure you set aside time in your routine for this. “Some libraries have apps you can use to borrow ebooks, audiobooks or magazines from home for free, if you’re a library member,” reads Mind’s advice. “FutureLearn and OpenLearn have free online courses you could try.”
To keep yourself busy, why not get cracking on a project you’ve been meaning to start for some time. Roo Davies, an accredited life coach, suggested if there’s something “in the house or garden that you’ve been meaning to get round to, this is the perfect opportunity. Spring clean? Re-organise cupboards? A spot of decorating?”
Davies also suggested “setting yourself challenges, is there a jigsaw puzzle at the back of the cupboard that you’ve never got round to?” Try making a list of all the books you’ve wanted to read for a while, and then spend your evenings steadily working through that list. Now might be the right moment to start that novel you’ve been meaning to write.
Mind also listed some other suggestions for hobbies that could help you relax “take notice of the present moment and use your creative side.” These include: “arts and crafts, such as drawing, painting, collage, sewing, craft kits, or upcycling, colouring, mindfulness, playing musical instruments, singing or listening to music, writing, yoga, and meditation.”
If you live alone and you’re bothered by the lack of noise or talking, there are a few options.
Mind advised listening to “a chatty radio station or podcast if your home feels too quiet.”
I asked Mashable reporters for some of their favourite chatty podcasts and here’s what they came up with:
- The Read
- The Receipts Podcast
- What’s the Tee with RuPaul and Michelle Visage
- Reply All
- Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness
- Table Manners with Jessie Ware
Things are tough right now, but know that you’re not alone. People all around the world are likely experiencing similar feelings to you. Reach out to people — you won’t regret it.