Many of us have been feeling disconnected from others during the COVID pandemic. This is how mental health experts cope with it.
https://www.huffpost.com-By Stephanie Barnes
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Loneliness is a common issue, but it has become even more prevalent over the last few years because of the coronavirus pandemic.
We’ve all had to navigate feelings of loneliness at one point or another, whether we want to openly admit it or not. This loneliness may materialize as a small tug when you’re sitting by yourself, or it could be more of an overwhelming feeling that never quite leaves you.
Either way, it’s important to acknowledge and address these feelings of loneliness in healthy ways. And what better way to deal with these feelings than to ask professionals how they do it.
“Even therapists are susceptible to the gripping impact of loneliness and heartbreak, particularly with the increase in isolation in the past two years due to social distancing,” said Lori Ryland, a licensed clinical psychologist in Michigan and chief clinical officer at Pinnacle Treatment Centers.
So how do the experts handle it? We’ve gathered a few methods and techniques below. Here’s hoping they’ll help you, too.
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- Acknowledge what you’re feeling.
As with most feelings, you can’t address loneliness unless you recognize it’s there.
“Loneliness is a signal to acknowledge the vulnerability and ask for help,” said Nicole Villegas, a wellness coach and founder of Take Action for Self-Care. By simply labeling these feelings, you’ve already taken the first step toward making it better, she added.
- Seek connection.
When dealing with feelings of loneliness, Ibinye Osibodu-Onyali, a licensed marriage and family therapist at The Zinnia Practice in California, said she takes the time to connect with others in real and meaningful ways.
“I reach out to others either via social media or I send them a text to check in with them. I love having deep conversations with others. I genuinely like to know how they are doing and how I can support them,” she said.
These connections don’t always have to be with folks you already know and love; you could take the opportunity to meet new people. Angela Amias, a licensed social worker in Iowa City, Iowa, said she enjoys finding ways to connect in brief interactions.
“It’s easy to overlook small opportunities to connect with others,” she said. “I read a study several years ago that found casual interactions with strangers improved people’s moods for the rest of the day. Since the pandemic, I especially appreciate my encounters with vendors at the farmer’s market, with cashiers at the local grocery, with people I cross paths with during my daily walk.”
- Brain-dump your feelings.
Amias also shared that sometimes when she feels lonely she tries to connect with herself as well. She said her loneliness often indicates that she’s not as connected to herself as she should be, and she uses journaling as an antidote.
“Journaling helps me reconnect with myself. There’s something about sitting down with a cup of coffee, my journal and my favorite pen that lets me slow down and really listen to myself,” she said.
- Venture outside for a few minutes.
“When I feel a sense of loneliness, I often turn to the natural world for support,” Amias said, adding that taking a moment to absorb everything around her helps her remember she’s a part of it all.
Research shows going outside and walking can give a slight mood boost, too, which may ease some of the sad feeling associated with loneliness.
- Try a quick thought exercise.
For Kate Ecke, a therapist in New Jersey and founder of The Unconventional Therapists, mindfulness is the go-to practice while experiencing moments of feeling alone.
“I think about the amount of people who are in my immediate vicinity (so maybe, the town I’m currently in), then I go out a little further and think about the county, then state, then country, then continent and then the world,” she explained. “I think about how each of these people is a living, breathing person. That each of one of them has hopes, dreams and fears. That they all love someone else deeply. That they have all lost something profound.”
Her goal here is to remind herself that there are millions of people having the same human experience as she is in this very moment. “And suddenly — I don’t feel so alone,” she added.
- Figure out where the feelings are coming from.
According to Danita Morales Ramos, a licensed professional counselor in Virginia Beach, Virginia, “feelings are not finite. They are simply an experience.”
By checking with yourself to identify whether your feeling of loneliness is linked to the past or present, you’ll be able to better manage.
“I ask myself if these feelings relate to something that is happening in the present or if it relates to my view of the past or future. Identifying why I have these feelings helps me to properly address them,” Morales Ramos said. “If my feelings are rooted in the past, I focus on what I am dealing with in the present. Focusing my attention on the present alleviates the feelings of loneliness that are rooted in the past. If the feeling of loneliness is rooted in the future (i.e., anxiety), I also use mindfulness as well as positive self-talk to help me return my focus to my current circumstances.”
- Learn a new skill.
Another way to deal with feeling alone is by keeping your mind busy with new and interesting things. Jason Drake, a therapist in Katy, Texas, said when he opened a private practice during the pandemic he realized he needed to learn how to optimize his website. He decided to reach out to a search engine optimization expert for lessons.
“For 12 weeks, she walked me through and showed me the ins and outs of optimizing a website. For those 12 weeks, I was kept busy learning this new skill and implementing it,” he said. “Learning a new skill kept my brain focused on a task instead of my thoughts wandering to the feelings of loneliness. A busy mind is one of the best ways to get the inner dialogue to quiet down, which led to decreased feelings of loneliness.”
- Pay attention to how you speak to yourself.
Drake also said that positive self-talk is key when experiencing loneliness. Since our brains tend to have a negativity bias, it means that our thoughts naturally drift toward negative things about ourselves or about our life.
“One way to help manage feelings of loneliness is to look at these feelings realistically. When you feel lonely, it may feel in that moment that these feelings will last forever. Yet when I would remind myself that these feelings were temporary and that nothing, including feelings, lasts forever, it helped the feelings of loneliness decrease in strength,” he said.