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How to avoid loneliness & social isolation

During the COVID-19 Pandemic

If you’re feeling alone, sad, overwhelmed, or isolated, you are not alone. As cases of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to rise in the U.S., combined with the arrival of the flu season during the upcoming winter months, it is possible for increased physical and social isolation, and more stringent lockdown measures to take place. With this, there might be an uprise in isolating behaviors among people.

Humans are social creatures, and many of us find comfort in staying connected. When we are deprived of these deep social connections, we have a tendency to feel lonely or isolated. The longer this isolation and loneliness last, the higher our risk is for mental, emotional, and physical problems. Typically, loneliness is a signal to a depressive episode and is seen as an individual problem treated with things like exposure therapy. Now, isolation is a lot more nuanced. Because we are social distancing due to a global pandemic, “treating” loneliness and isolation behaviors takes a little more creativity.

Isolation makes you think that you are the only one, and you’re the only one who’s feeling alone and that’s not true. This is NOT a normal situation, and you’re already handling it – however that looks like for you. As this pandemic continues, we want to give you a few tools for coping with these hard feelings, because you really are not alone in this.


  1. When is the last time I’ve been outside?

  2. How am I talking to myself?

  3. What tone of voice do I use?

  4. How am I feeling today, really?

  5. What’s taking up most of my headspace right now?

  6. When is the last time I ate or drank anything?

  7. How has my sleeping been?

  8. What are 3 things I’m grateful for?

  9. When is the last time I reached out to, or checked in on someone I care about?

  10. How do I feel about myself and my life?

Tips for coping with loneliness:

List what is and is not in your control.

When we shift our focus to what we can control, we are more likely to see differences in all aspects of our health and performance. As a practice, draw one circle with space outside of it. Inside the circle, write down what you have control over, outside of the circle, write down what you do not have control over. Having a visual idea of what is, and what is not yours to carry can help put things into perspective and release some of those overwhelming thoughts and feelings.

Stay connected.

Instead of recommending things like joining in-person groups, invite a friend out to coffee, or going to a museum or the movie theater as steps to combat loneliness, treatment looks pretty different now. The good news is, people have found creative ways to stay connected. Here are a few ideas:

  • Stay connected with your support system. Resources like Skype, Zoom and Face Time have been major players in people staying connected with their loved ones and social communities. Another way to stay in touch is through my new favorite app, Marco Polo. This app is great for staying connected when it’s convenient for both people. Use photos, voice audio, or video to send and respond back when you can. This can also take away some of the anxiety that live interactions can have, especially on those of us who experience social anxiety.

  • Online groups. While it may feel more challenging to connect with others, there are still ways to connect with people who have similar interests and stay safe. From virtual volunteering, to book clubs and spaces to simply share some good news, there is a virtual community for everyone.

Go for a walk.

Spending time outside is so important to maintaining our overall health. Make it a routine to walk around your neighborhood or your local park or trail at least once a day. Along with getting fresh air, seeing other people and life coexisting together can remind you that you are not alone, and that we’re all just trying to cope.

Reach out for help.

It’s a perfect time to your counseling journey! More therapists than ever are offering online therapy. Along with this, many of them are offering sliding-scale or reduced payment. Check with your insurance company, or use Psychology Today to see what counselor is right for you.

Start a gratitude practice.

Remind yourself of the good that exists by practicing gratitude. List 5 things you’re grateful for every morning and night, or write a list at the beginning of the week and speak them out loud to yourself every day. It can be easy to fall into a negative self-talk cycle, so start a gratitude practice to stop the cycle before it gets out of control.

Learn to self-soothe.

Although you do not have to go through this alone, it is an important skill to learn how to self-soothe. One way to do this is to meet your basic needs. Stay hydrated, make sure to eat, take a shower, and prioritize your physical comfort. Another way to self-soothe is to speak affirmations or compassionate words to yourself out loud. Think about what you would tell a friend who is struggling in this way. How would you comfort them? Write a list of things you would say and repeat them to yourself when needed. Here are some to start with:

  • This is really hard, it’s okay to feel like this.

  • Just because you will be alone this Christmas does not mean you are alone in life.

  • You are allowed to grieve, you are allowed to mourn.

  • You are going to be okay.

  • It’s okay to be sad about this.

Remember, it is okay to grieve the loss of regular comforts and traditions. Change is SO hard! And many of us have yet to accept or have fully adapted to the changes that will likely stay for the long haul. You don’t have to handle this perfectly, but if you’re feeling lonely, know that there is space for you to feel better.


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