5 Reasons Why Communication Is The Only Cure For How To Stop Feeling Lonely During The Pandemic

how to stop feeling lonely

For better or worse, the pace of change is accelerating and many people are struggling to keep up. Most everyone is feeling not quite at their best, and often these days, alone. In addition to the many demands of coping with COVID and other stressful  current events, people are also wondering how to stop feeling lonely, especially when the social distancing and isolation are getting to so many of us.

Stress and loneliness seem to be feeding each other these days.

When it comes to change, one thing is always true: it’s stressful. In fact, Hans Selye, the scientist who actually coined the term stress defined it simply as aa “demand for change.”

It’s Darwinian and real. We have to adapt, we are adapting, and it’s stressful. Even anxiety provoking if we determine (or worry that) we don’t have what it takes to meet the demands ahead.

We all know this feeling…

~ Can I tolerate one. more. Zoom call?
~ Can I find the willingness to prepare the 585th meal of lockdown? 
~ How much longer can I go without seeing my doctor, a haircut, or a gym workout? 

When we predict we can’t handle the demands ahead, it breeds anxiety, and this sort of anxiety – based in self doubt – is almost always irrational. 

The truth of course is that you can face what’s ahead, even if you don’t want to…

~ You can tolerate one more Zoom call, but you might need to set more limits where you can.
~ You can face another meal prep, but there could be ways to make it easier on yourself so you can take a bit of a break.
~ You can go longer without a haircut, a proper gym workout, or a doctors visit, but your anxiety is a call to more carefully weigh what priorities are worth the risk, and which aren’t.

Sorting anxiety, and cultivating resilience, is a whole lot easier when we feel supported.

Trusted social relationships can play a key role in helping us channel anxiety into reasonable solutions, rather than ruminating on irrational fears.

And it’s getting harder to feel connected.

One of COVID’s many unwanted stressors has been the interruption for so many of the natural human interactions we share and rely on in our lives. How often might we have had a casual chat with a friend or acquaintance in our day that gives us problem-solving suggestions, and support?

~ a store clerk’s best dinner hack,
~ a gym trainer sharing an exercise to help our aching hip,
~ a colleague’s best intel on the safest hair salons nearby

We are missing the easy connections  that have helped us more through life than we might have recognized before and we are feeling the effects. We have never before so needed human real-life connection, and we are having to work to get as much of it as we can.

Communication has never been more important, and has never been harder for many of us.

~ Digital screens are among the best innovations of the last century since out last pandemic, and are saving our relationships, and possibly our lives. But they are far from perfect.

1. Video calls drain our cognitive resources more than audio.

Bridging the reality gap: Face to face digital communication drains cognitive energy, making it harder to relax and connect. For starters, our brain is tasked with closing the gap between what is really happening (a conveyed representation of a person on our digital device) and what we are seeking to replicate (a real live human connection). Make sure to get adequate sleep and time away from screens to allow your brain to rest. 

Resisting distractions: Not only are we constantly resisting the urge to look away from the screen at our actual environment, but we are also distracted by our own image on the screen. What real-life conversations ever involve a mirror next to a person’s face where we are having to resist looking at ourselves? Pay attention to your fatigue level, and work to limit video conferencing when you can. 

2. Communicating can be harder than it should be. 

Demands for video conferencing have increased: Why have a phone call when you can Zoom? Why limit social connections to your geography? It has never been easier to expand our connections, but it has also never been harder to engage. Technology is fatiguing, so using it responsibly is a must when you’re wondering how to stop feeling lonely.

Extroverts may be having a harder time, especially if they are used to connecting effortlessly. Unlike their introverted peers who have developed social skills to mitigate the energy drain it creates, extroverts aren’t used to having to work for connections and may be feeling more isolated. Recognizing this and creating structure around communicating can help extroverts resume connections they are lacking. 

Isolating has become familiar and habits feed on themselves. The more accustomed you become to being out of contact, the easier it is to maintain, even if it isn’t working. When we are tired, we are most prone to inertia, and turning on the TV is always easier than reaching out to a friend. Try instead to set times on your calendar when you have energy (and haven’t had a work-day filled with Zoom conferences) to call or video chat a friend.

3. A-game communication skills are a must.

Grumpiness, judgements and complaints are hard to hear, risking the likelihood that you will receive the listening supportive ear you are seeking. The grumpier you feel, the more you may feel like reaching out, but depending on how you communicate, that person may not be able to give you what you need. Aim instead to talk about your experience of what’s happening, rather than your thoughts about an event or situation. For more reading on translating complaints into communication that works, click here.

Risk being vulnerable: An unexpected reality of communication is that we feel the closest when we take calculated risks in sharing our feelings and vulnerability. Sharing our feelings is the secret sauce of effective interpersonal communication aimed at connection. As simple as it may sound, it is not always easy to do, and we can be more guarded than we realize. A good starting point is to begin sentences with I feel and follow them with a feeling before you say anything else. But remember the words that, like, and as if are NOT feelings but rather conjunctions that set up thoughts. So be careful…

Avoid shame-based language, EVEN if you feel justified: In this age of political unrest and social reckoning, there has been a troubling undercurrent of shame amidst the dialogue. Shame is among the most basic forms of social control wielding social exclusion as a weapon.

It may feel empowering to talk frankly about your thoughts and values, but judgements tend to end real conversations, and therefore damage the very progress you’re seeking. Worse, shame pushes people away at a time we need connection most.

Aim instead to talk about your feelings and experience when you’re wondering how to stop feeling lonely. Ask about other’s experience, and seek common ground. Mutual understanding and building consensus are how come together to solve things. Shame is never a part of this process and shuts down risk-taking

4. Prioritize REAL, socially distant, in-person connection whenever possible

Invest in HEPA filters, fans, and heaters, to move air and micro droplets and make socializing safer and easier as the weather changes.

Choose bundling up and being safe over being comfortable and alone whenever possible.

Ask others what’s working for them.

Stay on the look out for easy testing so you can know your risk, and that of others, when you need to be inside together.

5. Use your mood and emotions as a guide. 

Above all else, tune into, not away, from your feelings and mood – they hold important clues to what you need…

Self care, balance, and loneliness are the most common drivers of mental health risk to watch for and monitor.

If you’re lucky enough to still have a job, or even if you are searching for a new one or creating a new professional opportunity, remember you are no longer “working from home.” As the months wear on, it can feel more like we are “living at work.”

Set better boundaries in your home, and with your time. This may not be easy, but can deliver the balance you need to keep going.

Remember, there’s nothing wrong with you if you are tired, feeling lonely, and have emotional limits. It means you are stretching and growing. If you’ve fallen off balance, use your feelings to gently nudge you where you need to go.

If you can’t figure it out yourself, this is your cue to connect with a trusted loved one and ask for help.

Connecting with others is what we do as humans to stop feeing lonely when we can’t quite do it alone. The headwinds of COVID inconveniences need not stop you from accessing the connection you need to be your best.

 

To access more COVID-focused coping resources opt-in to the free course I created to help.

For instant access, click here

Alicia H. Clark, PsyD

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