What To Do About Feelings Of Isolation And Loneliness In Lockdown

We asked for the help of a South African psychologist to help you through lockdown.


Kelleigh Korevaar |

If you’re feeling a range of negative emotions including loneliness in lockdown, you’re not alone, In fact, they’re not feelings that are limited to this COVID-19 quarantine period either. The psychological impact of quarantine in response to epidemics around the world is the subject of at least 24 studies already.

And a rapid review published in February 2020 in The Lancet  found that most of these studies reported significant and in some cases, long-lasting negative effects including post-traumatic stress disorder, confusion and anger.

Related: Relieve Stress During Lockdown With This 60-Minute At-Home Yoga Class

Seriously, even the science shows that dealing with loneliness in lockdown can be really tough. That’s why we asked for the help of a Dr Eugene Viljoen, registered clinical psychologist and certified sexologist.

According to him, one big factor in how much you are affected is whether you’re an extrovert or an introvert. ” An extrovert in isolation can be very stressful in that they’re not having contact with others. Extroverted people thrive on energy from other people and regard human connection to be vital for their sense of well-being. On the other hand, introverted people tend to say that the isolation suits them, as they know how to keep themselves busy and do not feel stressed by the levels of lockdown,” he explains.

Although no matter where you fall on the spectrum of introvert to extrovert, it’s still very likely you could experience loneliness in lockdown, especially if you’re alone. So take these tips for Dr Viljoen to get you through your dark days.

1. Reach Out to Others

“For someone being dependant on interaction, social media seems to have been a blessing, as it does have an element of interaction with the outside world,” says Viljoen.

Viljoen explains that platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype, FaceTime and WhatsApp calls, gives some relief with regards to not feeling the full brunt of loneliness because you can see people. These platforms allow the formation of friendship groups where virtual house parties could be organised.

He advises you maintain connection with your family and friends as much as possible. But of course, this isn’t always viable for may different reasons and in those instances you might want to find ways to keep busy and kill time to combat loneliness in lockdown. The below suggestions by Viljoen will help you with that.

2. Catch Up on Chores

You’re probably thinking that this is the worst think you could spend your time in lockdown doing. Beneficial, sure but enjoyable? Absolutely not. But hear us out. “This might be the time to do all the things you have always put on the back-burner,” says Viljoen. Research has shown that those struggling with their mental health often neglect doing things like household chores and when you’re not doing them, they end up piling up and it ends up feeling like there is just too much to do. So tackle one small task each day and it will end up being a whole lot manageable, plus you’ll end up feeling a sense achievement.

But it doesn’t have to be all about dust and dirty dishes. What about updating that CV you’ve been meaning to for the last year? Or maybe you wanted to go through you closet and get rid of things you no longer wear? If that’s the case here’s how to here’s hot to organise your closet during lockdown.

3. Learn a New Skill

“Time to learn a new skill or learn a new language,” says Viljoen. Not only will it keep you busy and your mind occupied, but if you’re feeling stressed it could actually help. Research from the Harvard Business Review suggests that by focusing on learning something new you could better learn to cope with stress. Which is something that most of us are dealing with in copious amounts right now whether it’s work or personal.

If you’re looking for some ideas, check out these 9 free online courses you can do during lockdown.

4. Set Yourself a Challenge

“Set yourself new challenges and goals. The sense of achievement boosts mental well-being,” says Viljoen. According to Thrive Works, setting goals and working towards them can seriously help combat feelings of loneliness in lockdown. That’s because when you aren’ working towards something you start to feel restless which ends up exacerbating negative feelings such as loneliness. On the other hand, you want to make sure you aren’t getting burnt out so the important thing is to strike the right balance.

5. Spend Time in the Kitchen

Research has shown that eating alone is actually bad for your health, not great news to hear when we’re all in lockdown, we know. One of the reasons is that people who eat alone end up making much less healthy food choices which negatively impacts their health. Sometimes it’s just easier to order that KFC than cook a meal-for-one.

“Being lonely directly affects ones sense of self-care in a negative manner. Be aware not to neglect your health by only having comfort food,” advises Viljoen.

But when you’re feeling down sometimes you might feel like comfort food is the answer. After all, nothing screams a warm hug like a big bowl of lasagne. Not to worry, we’ve found a way to cheat the system. We took 8 of everybody’s favourite comfort food meals and gave them a healthy, nutritious makeover. Check out our healthy recipes for comfort food like Mac And Cheese, Lasagne and more. Now you can enjoy tasty food while still being healthy and you’ll pick up a few skills along the way.

6. Get Active

An article in the International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology found that physical activity can contribute to a decrease in feelings of loneliness. However, as you’ve probably experienced, it is a double-edged sword. Loneliness might reduce the probability of being physically active. It’s one of those ‘exercise to feel good, but you don’t feel good so you don’t want to exercise’ situations. So focus on what you can do, start with 10 minutes and see if you can do more.You don’t have to exercise for 90 minutes. The small goals are sometimes the easiest to motivate yourself to do.

But as the days get colder as we dive deeper into winter, you might not want to head outside for a cold, rainy 5k. That’s fine, too. “If you cannot exercise outside, get an exercise video on YouTube to exercise indoors,” says Viljoen.

At a loss for where to start with your home workout routine? Check out these 8 workout apps to help you sweat your way through lockdown.

7. Go into Nature

There’s a difference between being alone and being lonely and research has shown that being alone in nature can bring some serious benefits. And it doesn’t even have to be a Bear Grylls-level solo-adventure. According to a 2019 study, as little as 10 minutes (yep, only 10!) of sitting or walking in nature significantly and positively impacts psychological and physiological markers of mental well-being. So during your working-from-home lunch break, instead of shovelling down a sandwich at your desk, why not take 10 minutes and go for a walk?

8. Get Enough Sleep

Getting enough sleep seems to be the solution for just about everything. The Cigna US Loneliness Index found that getting adequate and ‘just the right amount of sleep’ to be related to a lesser likelihood of loneliness. So make sure you’re prioritising your sleep hygiene, and that doesn’t mean showering before you get into bed (you should be doing that anyway. Sleep hygiene includes all the things you would do to ensure you get a proper night’s sleep; not taking naps, avoiding stimulants, not being on your phone in bed.

9. Consult a Professional

consulting a psychologist loneliness in lockdown

“Finally, if anxiety and depression becomes a problem, you should consider consulting with a mental health professional. This can be done face-to-face, or via telemedicine consultations as mental health is an essential service during all the levels of COVID-19 lockdown,” explains Viljoen.

*Illustrations by Undraw

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