About 35 million Americans live alone, and many of them are now also weathering the coronavirus pandemic by themselves. Quarantine means not being able to see friends, no events, and severely limits social interaction. In that situation, it’s easy for loneliness to creep in.
And loneliness can affect those who are not living alone, as well. People are missing family members they’re not able to see, and their friends and coworkers.
“Loneliness is dangerous to your health. Among other things, it puts you at more risk for depression, anxiety, and it depresses the immune system,” said New Jersey psychologist Dan Gottlieb, a frequent contributor to WHYY’s Morning Edition.
Connecting with friends via Zoom or FaceTime helps, he said, but sometimes it’s just not enough.
“We’re not at peace. We don’t feel calm,” Gottlieb said.
So what does help?
“One of the things I tell my patients is to do something they enjoy every single day,” Gottlieb said.
The urge to work harder than usual, to clean out closets is strong, but do something fun instead, Gottlieb said.
“The priority here is not cleaning closets. The priority is getting through this with as much peace as I can,” he said.
Listening to music you love, reading a trashy novel, or watching a show you really enjoy is all helpful, and can give you a sense of connection and well-being, he said.
A study from the University at Buffalo seems to back up this sentiment. It found that so-called “guilty pleasures” can fulfill critical social needs in a way similar to family connections, romantic relationships, or strong social support systems.
Shira Gabriel, a professor of psychology at the University at Buffalo, has studied “non-traditional social strategies” for over a decade. Those can include reading or cooking favorite foods. Gabriel’s latest study compared different ways of “filling the social fuel tank” and found that these strategies helped people feel a sense of connection.
Gottlieb said that a lot of times we feel guilty when we engage in these activities, or have a sense that we should do something we consider to be more valuable.
“Leave yourself alone,” advised Gottlieb, “give yourself a break.”
He stressed the importance of taking care of our bodies and minds. “Look what we’re going through, it’s a sense of loss, most of us are in some form of mourning, longing for yesterday and fearing tomorrow.”
Try to enjoy yourself the best you can, Gottlieb said, and do something fun every day.