Alone, Lonely, or Cut Off Altogether – How Isolated Have You Been Feeling?
Well, it’s been a whole year now since we all retreated from our normal social lives to protect ourselves from COVID-19. So, I’ve got to ask: how are you doing?
Now, admittedly, some people are deep-dish introverts who, before this past year, never could cadge enough alone-time to ponder, reflect, absorb or process the day’s events and their own thinking about them. Those folks are stressed when they don’t have enough time away from others.
(Belleruth, who calls herself a closet introvert, says that after she had kids, she had to get up really early – around 4 am - to grab some solitude before they woke up. In those days, solitude was even more precious to her than sleep, and early morning was her only shot at enough alone time to feel emotionally and intellectually centered for the upcoming day. But left alone for a stretch? After about 3 days, even she would start craving company.)
Let’s face it: we’re social animals! If we don’t spend enough time around “our people,” our bodies and minds both suffer. Our “Homies” get called that wonderfully familial term for a reason, after all.
That’s been especially true for people who live by themselves or with just one other person, but even if you’ve been in a big household bubble or hanging out with your pandemic pod, there are so many people you haven’t been able to see. So if you’re not feeling 100% these days, loneliness is probably a big part of it.
Loneliness is the feeling of wanting to connect with “your people,” but not being able to for some reason – say, for example, the need not to spread a highly contagious virus. The community you long for isn’t available to you, and you miss it.
But if you’re feeling lonely, there are ways to create a sense of connection, even if you’re by yourself: texting and calling more, moving in-person meetings to video chats, maybe even writing letters. You can fantasize (or even plan) what getting back together with important people will look and feel like. (It’s called guided imagery, really…)
You could spend time re-experiencing nourishing memories of moments of rich connectedness with people you love – you’ll get a hit of de-isolation just from doing that (more guided imagery, really…)
You could volunteer with an organization or church that reaches out to lonely shut-ins as a help/self-help project. And you can also work on cultivating your ability to take pleasure in time spent by yourself, embroidery, painting, organizing files, rewiring the office, journaling your innermost thoughts and feelings… so missing the people you can’t be with isn’t quite as painful.
But sometimes, you don’t just feel lonely – you feel utterly alone, like there’s no point in reaching out to your people because you don’t believe they’ll reach back. You might even suspect that they aren’t really your people, and that you’ve been fooling yourself all along to think that they care about you. Our social animal brain thinks that’s a life-and-death threat, and it can be agonizing. And being alone with our own circular thinking can get pretty weird, even for the most resilient and mentally healthy of us.
You can also remind yourself that vaccines for COVID-19 are here and will soon let us be with our people again. So hang in there – there’s a light at the end of this long, dark tunnel of a year! Promise!!!