Independent or invisible: Coping while living alone in lockdown
As a person who lives alone, I can testify that it can be an emotional rollercoaster — sometimes it gets lonely, it’s always your turn to do the dishes, there’s no one around to offer light-hearted chit chat when you’re feeling overwhelmed, and you find yourself constantly battling with the deafening sound of silence. At the same time, you love having your personal space and independence, and feel proud that you’re comfortable enough to be left in the presence of your own company and thoughts — real life ‘adulting’!
However, life under lockdown has amplified these challenges, making it an especially difficult time for those of us living in total isolation — both physically and socially.
Being around loved ones feels like a distant memory. Over the past few months, new ‘familiar people’ have become the staff at my local Sainsburys, the people I bump into occasionally in the lift, and two musical neighbours — one who truly sings like no one is listening, and the other, who plays the flute with such flair and whimsy it echoes across buildings, winning the applause of passers-by.
On top of that, there’s always a fear of catching Covid and not having someone else at home to help, along with the polarising tension of feeling eager to meet someone else but anxious about venturing out of the safe bubble you’ve created to re-engage — even when those friends and relatives live just an uber-ride away.
Nevertheless, being alone during this time has brought some good things too. I’ve picked up hobbies I never had time for before, embraced home workouts and elaborate skincare routines, and laughed with loved ones on infinite Zoom calls. I’ve also had time to reflect on things I feel grateful for, as having the means to isolate comfortably is a privilege in itself, and the unfortunate reality remains that many people living in the UK are experiencing much greater hardships.
But, why does this matter?
According to the office for National Statistics, there were 8.2 million people living alone in the UK last year, with just under half aged 65-and-over. Numerous studies have shown that living in ‘isolation’ and feeling lonely can have adverse effects on both mental and physical wellbeing, including depression and anxiety, and in serious cases, alter immune systems and make humans more prone to dangerous physical conditions such as heart disease, stroke and Alzheimer’s.
It’s also important to recognise that people can feel lonely even with other people around them. Pamela Qualter, a professor of psychology for education at the University of Manchester, defines loneliness as a ‘subjective experience’ and “not necessarily about being on your own, but about feeling a disconnect with other people”. Therefore, there’s no doubt that living in a state of lockdown for so many months and not socialising with others is bound to have a negative impact on people’s emotional and physical wellbeing — fuelling a loneliness epidemic, especially as we try adapt to this ‘new normal’.
Coping behaviours to tackle the loneliness and stay sane
From health-related organisations, to influencers and celebrities — a range of advice has been offered on how to handle feelings of loneliness and isolation. So, this week, I wanted to share 5 coping mechanisms I’ve used to help manage these emotions during this difficult time whilst living alone, and how some brands have enabled myself and others to do so:
1. ACKNOWLEDGE THAT ‘YOU’ WILL NEED TO STEP UP AND BE STRONG TO KEEP YOURSELF SANE
The problem of living alone is that there’s no one at home to distract you from negative thoughts and feeling down. Acknowledging that while family and friends are a phone call away, these lockdown circumstances means you will need to step up and be strong during this period to help yourself get through this is a necessary first step to build resilience and manage your own expectations.
Technology can also play a role here — apps such Headspace and Paradym help build your sense of self-awareness, making them excellent resources to use to check-in with your mental health. Furthermore, accepting that your emotions may be off balance during this time is also key, as highlighted in the hilarious segment ‘What weird thing made you cry this week?’ featured in celebrity Kumail Nanjiani’s new lockdown podcast — ‘Staying in with Emily and Kumail’.
2. KEEP A SUPPORT NETWORK
Feelings of loneliness often come with stress and self-pity due to the lack of connection with other people. While it’s tempting to want to ‘avoid’ speaking to others to not confront these emotions, making an effort to connect with people and places that bring you joy is a helpful way to stay positive and voice your emotions. A recent survey found that more British people are tuning into digital religious services and engaging in prayer than ever before, reviving connections with faith and lessening feelings of loneliness through creating a sense of community.
Furthermore, apps such as Houseparty and Draw Something offer fun activities to enjoy with others from afar, and during this WFH period, donut is a useful tool that automatically pairs you with colleagues for catch-ups and virtual coffees to strengthen work relationships, despite the distance.
3.. MAINTAIN A ROUTINE AND KEEP YOURSELF BUSY
Not being surrounded by other people who push you to join them for a workout or have dinner together after finishing work, means it’s all too easy to give up and feel demotivated.
However, having a routine is a great way to add purpose to your day and build in activities that keep your mind occupied. From listening to podcasts to cooking something new — there are a number of activities to engage in and creating mental to-do lists with easy to accomplish micro-tasks is a simple but effective way to feel more positive and fulfilled.
The London-based website ‘Obby’ has transformed many of its face-to-face classes into accessible virtual formats, and several fitness influencers such as Joe Wicks and others have offered ‘live workouts’, allowing people around the world to join in for a boost of adrenaline and camaraderie. Restaurants such as ‘Patty & Bun’ and ‘Pizza Pilgrims’ have also developed DIY kits to make mealtimes more special and mimic eating out.
However, with so many resources out there to keep yourself busy with, it’s important to maintain a balance — a study conducted in the US found that sleep deprivation made people feel lonelier and socially withdrawn, reinforcing the point that not over-committing and simply getting enough rest is also crucial.
4. TAKE CONTROL OF THE THINGS THAT ARE IN YOUR HANDS
No one knows the future of this pandemic and this can feel deeply unsettling. Self-determination theory states that the need for ‘autonomy’ is integral to our wellbeing and happiness. Therefore, taking ownership of the things you ‘can’ control e.g. what you wear, what you eat, your mood, and your surroundings, can help restore a sense of personal stability, despite a lack of control over your external environment.
The surge in loungewear and baking trends during lockdown are just two examples of things people have been engaging with to bring back comfort and control during the current situation. Music is also reported to have a powerful effect on the body, including boosting the immune system, evoking memories and even reducing symptoms of depression, therefore using streaming apps such as Spotify — known for its collection of playlists that cater to different states of mind — is also an effective tool to lift your spirits.
5. THINK ABOUT YOUR SURROUNDING ENVIRONMENT AND HOW YOU USE YOUR SPACE
Living alone may also mean living in a smaller space. As the demands of the home increase to become places where we also work, eat, play, sleep and relax, there’s an even greater need to structure it in a way that allows for multi-functionality without feeling suffocated. Sectioning areas of a room for different activities (e.g. day and night / working and relaxing) allows for greater ‘division’ of small spaces and investing in foldable furniture is also key in avoiding taking up more room.
Thinking about the ‘ambience’ is also crucial — having enough sunlight (or mimicking this through ‘daylight bulbs’) and bringing in elements of nature are proven to improve wellbeing. Within this, brands such as M&S, with their Little Garden initiative, have encouraged people to grow seedlings at home, and Patch delivers a variety of plants, (as well as guidance on how not to kill them!) right to your doorstep.
If you’re alone, know that there are ways to get through this difficult time and that if you feel lonely, you are definitely not the only person feeling this way. Human beings are social beings and crave interaction with others, so this is only natural.
But don’t allow this to be a time when your life stands still. Use this moment to not only be kind to yourself, but to others too — from reaching out to those more vulnerable than yourself to volunteering for local charities — try to make the most of this strange and isolated time to help create more positive human futures for yourself and those around you.
And while these new behaviours may seem strange, difficult and in some cases scary, you may look back on your life in lockdown and remember the lessons it taught you about what it means to be happy, what it means to be busy, and ultimately what it means to be human.
Neha Ahmed is a senior consultant at Brand Genetics, an agency specialising in human-centred insight and innovation. With a background in Business & Management, she has worked at IBM in global resource management and is fascinated by culture, human psychology and social enterprise.