The coronavirus pandemic has been a harrowing presence in our lives for the majority of 2020, social distancing and lockdown procedures have been in place for months and people across the world are adapting to a new way of life. Safeguarding against the spread of COVID-19, has meant for many of us, social interactions from the menial to the meaningful have been limited or altered. Although as lockdown procedures lift in some areas and for some people, many are attempting to access a semblance of normal daily life, social interaction is still at an all-time low for a vast majority of people across the world. At the beginning of the pandemic response, many feared that lockdown procedures would mentally impact thousands. Now, months into a mentally exhausting pandemic and isolation, many may be trying to ward off frustrating and often debilitating feelings of loneliness.
A UK charity, Campaign to end Loneliness, an organisation that looks to help communities address and diminish feelings of loneliness across all age groups but specifically older people. They recently highlighted three psychological techniques that can help address feelings of loneliness. Huffington Post reported: ‘Loneliness is a “subjective and emotional response”, says Campaign to End Loneliness, and people tend to describe it using words like anxiety, fear, shame and helplessness. It can affect how we act, as well as how we anticipate and interpret our social experiences.’
Many governments expected loneliness to rise significantly over the course of the pandemic especially as self-isolation procedures were put in place. However, as the world has moved further through the pandemic, the predicted increase of loneliness differs. NPR, reported that some studies in the US found that loneliness has not yet risen to the levels expected. One online study published in the peer reviewed American Psychologist, found that younger people were reporting more feelings of loneliness. Yet other organisations have found that many people are experiencing new feelings of loneliness and many campaigns across the world put in place schemes to prevent and tackle this mental state.
If you or a loved one is struggling with loneliness, these psychological techniques may be worth pursuing. Always check in with a doctor or mental health expert for guidance, especially if feelings of loneliness are becoming difficult to cope with. These techniques were outlined by the Campaign to End Loneliness and accompanied by the statement:
‘These three approaches share key principles. They identify the automatic negative thoughts and feelings which can become overwhelming over time and influence behavior. They use specific techniques to challenge these patterns and replace them with more manageable and positive ways of responding.
In practice we found several examples of these approaches already being used, commonly drawing on a mix of approaches to best suit the person and their circumstances. When delivered by a trained practitioner they allowed time for reflection and support to identify a meaningful response.’
Mindfulness and meditation techniques can help one become aware of negative thoughts. These negative thoughts can be detrimental to any positive steps in tackling loneliness, by ruminating, catastrophising and undermining an ability to connect with others.
Mastering mindfulness is a long-term investment, often the practice of which can be difficult at first but beneficial in the long run. There are plenty of helpful platforms out there that can enable you to become more mindful. Apps such as Headspace are even offering a free year’s subscription to those who have been made unemployed during the pandemic, and have also made many of their classes free for all. Being mindful can fit into your everyday life and often centres around training your mind to be more aware, whether that is being more present and noticing the taste, texture and joy from a morsel of food or recognizing when a negative thought may occur and moving past it.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a psychological course that aims to help the patient recognize their automatic responses and thought patterns and works to challenge and alter negative cycles, in order to sustain a healthier mental state. By changing a person’s perspective, addressing self-sabotaging involuntary actions or thoughts, and helping a person to understand their thought processes, one may become better attuned to recognizing and coping with negative states of wellbeing such as loneliness.
Techniques range from noting down re-occurring negative thoughts and establishing thought cycles to muscle relaxation techniques and is normally accessible through a psychotherapist who practices CBT.
With the intention that positive emotions could override negative ones, positive psychology attempts to shift the focus on the good things in life, rather than ruminating in the negatives. Often it is easy to get lost in negative thoughts and overlook the positive parts of your day or life. A variety of different exercises can help one hone in on the encouraging aspects of their life, a positivity journal can be a simple and beneficial, allowing a person to collect together positive interactions, personal strengths and aspects of their life that they are grateful for. Although Harvard Health found that positive psychology can be beneficial, they do note that for more severe mental wellbeing issues, ‘It can complement rather than replace traditional psychotherapy.’