The coronavirus crisis has made many people feel uncertain, uncomfortable and afraid. How do we normally cope with these feelings? We turn to people we love, ask for a big hug or try to distract ourselves with shopping trips, going to the cinema or meeting colleagues for a beer after work.
Coronavirus has changed all that. At this time of crisis, many of us are feeling lonely. How can we best deal with these emotions?
Why do we need others?
People are social creatures. If we look at the history of our evolution, we can recognize the reason for this: as a more solitary species we would have died out. One person alone cannot successfully hunt, bring up young and keep themselves safe. One injury or illness could be a death sentence. Even though we no longer have to fight to survive in the wilderness, we instinctively need other people. We seek connection to give us a feeling of safety and security.
With these tips that’s still possible during the coronavirus crisis.
Tip 1: Recognize your need for intimacy
We often refuse to recognize unpleasant feelings. That’s understandable because it’s painful at first. But because the coronavirus crisis and social restrictions will be with us for some time, pushing feelings away is not a helpful long-term strategy.
Instead, we could admit to ourselves: I miss my friends. I need a hug. I’d like to go to the office in the morning instead of sitting alone at home. I would really love to celebrate my birthday with my family. It’s extremely sad that none of these things are possible and you’re allowed to be sad about it.
That might not sound very helpful. But if you allow yourself to recognize your feelings, then you don’t have to waste energy pretending that you don’t care. Plus you are showing yourself empathy and understanding. In other words, you are being a good friend to yourself.
Tip 2: Physical distance is not the same as social distance
When we feel alone it’s particularly important to stay in contact with others. There is a lot of public discussion about “social distancing” at the moment. But this term is misleading, because it’s actually only about physical distance and there’s a big difference!
We can and should stay in contact with others and maintain our social relationships – or perhaps even pay them more attention than usual – especially if we are feeling lonely. Restrictions may well force us to find new ways to connect with others: phone and video calls, letters and emails, online chats and walks at a safe distance.
Of course this all means changing our old habits. A lack of physical contact makes it more important to put our feelings into words. If you find this difficult, try to see this new form of togetherness as an opportunity to deepen your connections to others and make positive changes to your relationships.
Don’t wait for other people to contact you, but set an intention to get in touch with at least one person who is important to you every day. If you are struggling to talk about your own experience, then ask the other person how they are and listen to their answer – that can give you a feeling of connection too.
Tip 3: Loneliness won’t last forever
Buddhism teaches that the only constant in the world is change. That means that everything is in a constant state of flux. Our personal circumstances, our thoughts and feelings, our bodies, our relationships, the world we live in and everything in it – they are all changing all the time.
We may not all be Buddhists, but this observation can be useful to all of us, because it means our perception of loneliness is not permanent either. To test out this theory, make a conscious effort to notice the next time you feel lonely. Instead of turning on Netflix to distract yourself, try to sit still and observe the emotion. What does loneliness feel like? What other feelings do you have? What thoughts are coming up? What do you instinctively want to do when you are lonely?
Observe your feeling of loneliness until it changes, even if only very minimally. If you do this often, you will see how every unpleasant feeling eventually changes. The coronavirus will also change, and instead of feeling helpless, we can develop trust that every internal and external crisis will eventually pass.
A long-term positive development
Crises can help us to develop new coping strategies, and being able to deal better with being alone is a helpful ability beyond the coronavirus crisis. You may be in an extreme situation linked to many unpleasant feelings and thoughts, but it could be useful to you if it helps you improve your relationship with yourself and others.
Our three tips for coping with loneliness can help you try something new. But you are the best expert on your own wellbeing. So we’d like to encourage you to think of three more ways that could help you deal with loneliness. Write down your ideas, even if they seem trivial or wrong, and test them in your daily life. If you’d like to, you can share your experiences with us and others in our Facebook-Community (moderated in German).