The Quiet Pandemic of Loneliness During Covid-19

Even though most of us are no longer living in #lockdown, the Covid-19 pandemic continues to affect our lives – especially our relationships and social interactions. Loneliness, that unspoken shadow in many lives, has loomed larger than ever before. So many people have had to socially isolate themselves on their own; and although socialising has returned in the “new normal”, it isn’t the same as before. Social distancing has been especially hard on the single and dating has become a completely different landscape. But there is always a silver lining. In today’s blog post, therapist Teyhou Smyth looks at the pandemic of loneliness during Covid-19 and gives us some ideas on how to manage our thoughts and feelings in these difficult times. We hope it brings you comfort and hope, whatever you are going through.

Loneliness is a miserable state of mind whether we are in a global pandemic or it’s just another Tuesday night alone with Netflix. For people who are single during Covid-19, the loneliness and isolation may seem even more acute. With social distancing practices being recommended to avoid transmission of the virus, it is challenging to meet someone, let alone connect on that deeper level necessary to form a relationship.

In a Covid impact survey, 80% of people under age 30 reported feeling lonely, depressed, hopeless or nervous. When compared to the 2018 survey of loneliness, showing that 46% of people over age 18 experienced loneliness routinely, the increase is staggering.

Dating in the Age of Covid

Online dating has been standard practice for tens of thousands of single people over the past decade or more. Covid-19 has taken online dating to an all-time high, since people have less opportunity to meet “the old-fashioned way,” (in person). Many online dating sites report significant increases since Covid-19 began. In some ways, the pandemic has taken dating back a few hundred years in terms of speed and efficiency. Could this be a good thing?

The Benefits of Dating, Covid-style

Fear of impending viral doom may be a dating benefit, in the long run. There are many reasons dating during a pandemic could ultimately be the best experience of your life:

Slows dating down:
Loneliness sucks and it can drive people to make impulsive relationship decisions. Pandemic dating forces people to take a minute and delay the impulse to meet someone right away and to become intimate with them quickly. To use archaic terms, the courting process is longer out of necessity, which increases the odds of a connection being genuine. After all, you’re not going to risk getting Covid-19 for some loser, right? You will hold out for someone who is worth the risk, that you have gotten to know over a longer period of time.

Creates clear priorities:
Covid-19 has shaken us up as a culture. It has forced us to examine our priorities and values, which is a positive thing for the dating scene. When prospective partners are aware of their internal priorities, it removes some of the unnecessary BS of dating games. If someone is being gamey during a time like this, you also might be less tolerant of it and weed out the people who were not good for you in the first place.

Relationship with self:
Being lonely and having to be extremely selective because of a pandemic gives people the opportunity to improve their relationship with themselves. Even during lonely times, there is opportunity for self-exploration and growth. Learning to like and love oneself is vital for a relationship with someone else to work. The better you know yourself, the more clarity you have when it comes to others.

Strategies for Coping with Loneliness

Loneliness is a normal human emotion that everyone experiences from time to time. Even though it may not seem like it, the feeling will start to subside; you will not feel this way forever. It is important to remember that loneliness is temporary, as it can feel devastatingly permanent in the moment. If you are feeling lonely, try a few of these strategies to help manage the feelings:

Keep track of your thoughts:
Feelings of loneliness can cause us to have thoughts that are distorted or inaccurate. Try journalling your thoughts and feelings and pay attention to judgments about yourself. If you notice that you are being less than compassionate in your thoughts about yourself, make a conscious effort to practice replacing those thoughts with more reasonable ones. For example, if your loneliness is causing you to think, “I’m unlovable,” try replacing the thought with, “I have many positive traits that are worth loving.” The more you practice this skill, the easier it gets.

Connect with platonic loved ones:
There are so many types of love, and often we take for granted the connections we already have established because we are focused on what we are missing. Call and Facetime with friends and family; visit when safe and appropriate to do so. Your existing platonic relationships are important and are more likely to be there for you in the long run than someone from a dating site.

Change your focus:
It is easy to dwell on what hurts most, but that isn’t very helpful. Feel the feelings, they’re going to be there whether you acknowledge them or not, but don’t get stuck obsessing on your loneliness which exacerbates the misery. After you’ve given your feelings their due regard, make a conscious decision to get out of your own head; go for a walk, throw yourself into a hobby, cook yourself an elaborate meal; do whatever positive distracting activities you can think of that will immerse you in a different frame of mind.

Loneliness can be instructive if we let it. Stay aware of your thoughts and be gentle with yourself. Take the opportunity to recall what you enjoy, yourself, as a single person who gets to make your own choices about what to eat, what to watch and where to go.

Maybe you have gotten stuck in a rut of pleasing your partners in the past and forgot that you can decide which place has the best take-out. Maybe you hate Sci-Fi and no longer have to sit through another episode of that lame show that your ex used to love.

At some future point, when you are in a relationship, you may look back on this stage of your life and wish you had embraced it a bit more. What will your future-self wish you had done when you were single? Do that. Be less afraid of being alone than being with the wrong person. Until you meet that right person, get to know, and love, yourself.

[This blog post originally appeared on Teyhou’s website ~ some content may have been modified for the UK context.]

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