How COVID loneliness is different from non-COVID loneliness and how to work wisely with it.

Loneliness is different from solitude. Solitude is something chosen while loneliness often feels foisted on you. The Covid pandemic has generated both solitude and loneliness for millions of people.

How is Covid loneliness different from non-Covid loneliness? 

If you’re an introvert, the social limitations Covid have imposed on your life might actually feel like a gift. A cosmic permission slip to engage less, as there are fewer social events to attend or decline. On the other hand, if you’re more extroverted, the same social limitations can feel like an emotional straight jacket.

Introverts, who traditionally re-energize alone, are not hermits. They still enjoy social contact, just less of it. So, whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, the social restrictions of Covid have had an effect on you.

If you’re an introvert and appreciate not having to say no to social invitations you can still feel somewhat bereft about the ones you would have liked to attend. In some ways, introverts have it even harder as their social circle is usually smaller and there are even fewer people with whom they want to interact. Extroverts typically have a wider circle and more people they can see, even with social distancing.

Monks and nuns who live in separate communities might actually have it the easiest. They are used to solitude, a certain amount of silence, and community. They know how to find refuge in prayer, contemplation and meditation. There’s a lesson in that. This could be a great time to enjoy the 55,000 free meditations on the Insight Timer app. See my curated list of some of my favorite teachers here:

It’s also a good opportunity to study anything you’ve been interested in but put on the back burner for lack of time. Of course, I’m not suggesting that for people who are trying to entertain their children, monitor homework, homeschool, or anyone whose schedule is more than full. While they may miss certain social activities, they are probably not feeling particularly lonely.

Almost everyone I talk to is suddenly cleaning out their closets, attics and garages—-when they’re not vacuuming and dusting. But there’s only so much you can do to keep the loneliness at bay. When you feel sad and alone, you can scratch that itch by calling somebody, doing an extra errand, or anything that puts you near other humans; or, you can take the Buddhist approach and explore how loneliness really feels.

If that inner journey appeals to you, or you’re simply curious about it, try sitting down somewhere comfortable. Watch your thoughts. Notice them, name them. Just noticing and naming your thoughts activates your prefrontal cortex and calms your nervous system, so whatever loneliness you might feel will be less (complicated) by anxiety, anger, or something else emotionally challenging.

Notice your breath. Where do you feel it? Is it warm? Cool? Deep? Shallow?

Feel your body, whether you’re sitting or lying down. Feel it touch whatever surface supports it. 

Do a body scan. Starting at the crown of your head work your way slowly down through your whole body noticing how each area feels.

It’s truly amazing how sitting with an uncomfortable, or even disturbing, feeling can help it lessen or disappear.

Fighting feelings creates misery. Accepting even the most unpleasant thoughts, sensations and emotions is the path to freedom.

Loneliness is only bad if you tell yourself it is. You could choose to cultivate curiosity and try one of the above suggestions. Most of us have never gone through anything like this before and might find aspects of it intriguing.  To get you started, try asking yourself:

How have I coped and adapted? What have I learned? 

Even more amazingly, how have I benefited? 

How has this helped change the way I look at relationships, work, leisure time, sleep, nature, even my own breath?

Has it changed what’s important to you?

This could be an interesting time to keep an audio or written journal.

If you’re curious about audio journaling, a method I adore, check out this piece:

You have probably experienced loneliness before. With or without Covid, it’s likely you will experience it again. Finding out what supports you during lonely times makes them less daunting. 

Most importantly, we can all stand what we don’t like. (See this for more on sitting with discomfort:

Deciding to accept some lonely feelings during Covid only makes it easier when they inevitably show up.

As with anything difficult in life, practicing self compassion can soften the blow. (There’s a wonderful Ted talk by Kristen Neff on YouTube explaining how to talk to yourself compassionately.)

Kindness towards yourself is the balm for which your spirit yearns. Patience as you navigate this unfamiliar terrain, as well as allowing yourself to feel all your feelings and think all your thoughts, no matter what they are, helps immeasurably.

Treat yourself as lovingly as possible and remind yourself: 

I can stand what I don’t like.

The fact that I am still here proves I’m resilient.

Sometimes my only job is to take the next breath.

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

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Nicole Urdang

Nicole S. Urdang, M.S., NCC, DHM is a Holistic Psychotherapist in Buffalo, NY. She holds a New York state license in mental health counseling and a doctorate in homeopathic medicine from the British Institute of Homeopathy.