The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly. - F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

It’s been more than a year since the first COVID-19 case was reported in Canada. The days have plodded on, each one blending together in a smear of nebulous similtude. Twelve months in, many of us are still disconnected from our old routines, our work colleagues, our exercise buddies, our friends and our families. During the pandemic, the rates of loneliness have doubled. In a recent survey conducted by Ipsos, over half of Canadians reported feeling lonely, disconnected and isolated.

How do we cope with feelings of loneliness? Luckily there are some things we can do to keep these feelings at bay.

The Link Between Loneliness and Health

We humans are social beings. We require healthy attachments and companionship to survive and thrive. The emotional experience of loneliness can be wrenchingly difficult and has long been associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicide. It can also promote substance abuse and addiction. 'Coffee, wine, repeat' sound like a familiar refrain? But living in isolation is also taxing on our physical health.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, social isolation significantly increases our risk of premature death from all causes, a risk that rivals smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity. It has also been show to significantly increase our risk of dementia, heart disease and stroke.

So if loneliness is so destructive, how can we lessen its blows in a Lockdown world?

Coping with Loneliness

It is important to remember that the shift in our social world won't last forever. There will come a day, hopefully soon, where we will all be vaccinated and plotting our return to our pre-pandemic routines. Until then, remind yourself that 'this too shall pass.' It's natural and very human to feel empty, lost and alone. Do not blame yourself for feeling like you are struggling. Your discomfort and pain is shared with people across the globe. Different strategies will work for different people, but with some reflection and planning, you can push through these lonely days with more perspective and fulfillment.

Maintain a Routine

If you wake in the morning and think "what's the point?" while pulling the covers back over your head, I feel your pain. But creating a reliable routine may help lift the emotional inertia. Structuring your time with meaningful tasks will bring shape and momentum to your day and distract you from focusing on the dull ache of aloneness. Get up and go to bed at similar times every day. Decide when you will exercise and when you will prepare healthy meals and be sure to allocate clear times for both work and rest. I'd be a hypocrite if I told you to change out of your jogging pants, but I will encourage you to keep up with your personal hygiene. Treating yourself in a kind and nurturing way, as you would a beloved child or friend, will support your mood and bolster your self-respect.

Get Back to Nature

Here in Vancouver we are blessed with a variety of beautiful outdoor venues from the seawall to Jericho Beach and Pacific Spirit Park. Research in a growing scientific field called ecotherapy has shown a strong connection between time spent in nature and improved mental and physical well-being. Whether it is the magestic beauty of the forrest and ocean, the calming natural soundscape of birds or lapping waves, or earthy scents wafting along the breeze, mother nature heals us by lowering our blood pressure and curtailing levels of the stress hormone cortisol. The outdoors can also provide a more spiritual experience - an uplifting revelation that we are part of something much greater and expansive than ourselves. This can be a profoundly connecting realization and a comforting antidote for loneliness.

Explore Ways to Connect with People

By now we are all well-versed in Zoom. Virtual meetings, online education and family video chats have dominated the passed year. If you are struggling with social isolation, get creative with your online resources. Plan to watch a film with a friend, organize a virtual trivia night or challenge a buddy to an online Scrabble match. Share a recipe, cook dinner and enjoy a candle lit Zoom date with someone far away. My running clinic, Forerunners, meets online every Tuesday night, unable to train in person. As the pandemic stretches on, more and more meet-ups, clubs and classes have moved their offerings online. These events will give you something to look forward to and spice up an otherwise lonely day with stimulating social interaction.

If weather permits, plan to meet friends outdoors for a socially distanced walk, jog or frisbee game. While you enjoy their company and conversation, the exercise will combat lonliness with mood enhancing brain chemicals like seratonin.  

Create a regular routine of checking in with friends and family. Surprise someone you haven't spoken to for a while with a friendly text, set up a group chat on WhatsApp or Messenger, and pinpoint times to FaceTime with trusted friends and family members. Sharing your feelings with others can help soften the weight of loneliness and hearing a familiar voice can help us feel less isolated.

Remember that most people share only positive things on social media. If you can avoid comparing yourself to others, as this can intensify the feeling of loneliness. Social media breaks are good for the mind and soul.

If feelings of loneliness are overwhelming you and you are concerned about your mental health, I encourage you to seek the support of a registered clinical counsellor. Loneliness is a universal experience, and as paradoxical as it sounds, you are not alone in your aloneness. Contact me today for support.

Don’t let loneliness stop you in your tracks. Embrace these strategies to ease this challenging emotion, and continue to find meaningful moments of connection throughout the day.