In this time of social distancing, it only makes sense that many people feel lonely.
No one is physically present with co-workers, friends, or others they saw on a regular basis. Sure, we may talk to folks on Zoom and Google Hangouts, but it’s not the same.
Still, loneliness was a major problem well before social distancing, affecting as many as half of U.S. citizens in 2019. Loneliness is an epidemic as pervasive, and possibly as lethal, as the Coronavirus.
The Bizarre Irony of Loneliness
It doesn’t matter how many friends or family you have, or how much they clearly love you. Perhaps even though you’re not alone, you still feel lonely.
In fact, the bizarre irony of loneliness is that sometimes, the people with the biggest families or most Facebook friends, actually feel the loneliest.
How can this be?!
Quality, not Quantity
Loneliness isn’t about how many friends or family members you have.
Instead, it’s about the kinds of interactions you have with others.
Group Zoom hangs are fun, sure. But how well can you really connect with 10 people at once?
Arrange for some smaller hangs; ideally, one-one-one, to enhance the quality of your socialization.
If most of your interactions stay on the small talk level, you’re not connecting with others as well as you could be. You need to go deeper to feel less lonely. I’ll talk about how to do that next.
“Okay, but… How are You Really?“
If you get an inkling a friend or family member might be stressed, ask this simple follow-up question.
Let them know it’s okay to tell you know they actually feel. And then really listen to their answer.
Tempting as it it, don’t immediately go into fixing or advice-giving mode. Just listen. This will show them you’re a safe person to be real with.
Once someone opens up to you, ask for updates, and follow up with them. This will show them you care.
Share with someone how you’re really feeling; ideally, someone you know will be supportive. Start small, if you wish. One worry, concern, or even triumph.
Opening up to others will help you feel closer to them, which will cause you to feel… you guessed it. Less lonely.
Alternate way to be vulnerable: Tell people you love them and care about them.
Saying “I love you” is uncomfortable for many people. It opens up the possibility of rejection; that’s what makes it vulnerable.
During social distancing, your usual ways of showing love – by giving hugs, doing acts of service, giving gifts, and so on – may be limited. So use this opportunity to practice telling your loved ones how you feel.
If you’re not alone, but still feel lonely, you may need to connect with others a) one to one, or in smaller groups, and b) on a deeper level, by opening up about your feelings, and listening to theirs.
If opening up to others is really hard for you to do, I understand. You are not alone in that.
Therapy can give you the support, encouragement, and tools to learn how to open up to others. If you’re interested, contact me today.
Rebecca Ogle, LCSW, is a psychotherapist who provides compassionate tele-therapy. She helps folks heal from anxiety, depression, people-pleasing and burnout using their strengths and inner wisdom.