Social workers have long warned us of a “loneliness epidemic” in the UK – and the lockdowns amid the current health crisis make it even harder to stay socially connected. It can be difficult to sustain friendships and relationships when face-to-face interactions are not possible, but we are also missing out on countless everyday meetings, with everyone from strangers to store clerks.
Aside from the comfort that friendship and company give you in times of hardship, long-term loneliness has also been linked to a range of illnesses in several age groups. Tackling loneliness during quarantine is an essential part of your wellbeing.
While it may seem difficult to stay sociable in lockdown, there are plenty of creative solutions to loneliness. Here are ten suggestions for reconnecting with others and making the best use of your time alone.
10. Plan a digital meet-up
You may feel you’ve had enough Zoom pub quizzes and reunions for a lifetime, but now is the time to head back into digital meet-ups. Getting a friendship group together online to watch a movie, play games, eat a meal or just catch up is the perfect way to restore some normality amid lockdown.
9. Reconnect with old friends
Amid the bustle of everyday life, it’s often difficult to stay in touch with friends from the past. Lockdowns can be the perfect opportunity to rekindle friendships online, regardless of how long you’ve been apart or where you’re living now.
While it may feel embarrassing at first to contact a friend you haven’t caught up with in a while, the results can be very rewarding.
8. Pick up the phone
There’s evidence to show that phone calls are much more effective at tackling loneliness than using texts or emails to stay in touch. Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have found that picking up the phone and hearing someone’s voice makes you feel far more connected to them.
“When it came to actual experience, people reported they did form a significantly stronger bond with their old friend on the phone versus email, and they did not feel more awkward,” said Amit Kumar, the study’s co-author.
7. Learn something new
Joining a class or training in a new skill can transform lockdown into a more rewarding period. It doesn’t have to cost you – there are plenty of free online tutorials, learning apps and podcasts across YouTube, Spotify and various digital college courses.
As you learn, it can also be helpful to join online communities that relate to your chosen subject. Not only will learning in a group help to connect you with other like-minded people – it can also be a way to boost positive feelings about the future.
6. Connect with nature
According to charity The Wildlife Trusts, the natural world can be very beneficial to people who are experiencing loneliness. Whether you can reach a local garden, park or nature reserve near your home during lockdown, time spent outdoors can improve mental health.
“Spending time in the beautiful natural places we look after surrounded by wildlife can have a restorative effect,” The Wildlife Trusts notes. There are studies to show that walks in nature can have a therapeutic effect. In particular, Dr Jason Strauss of the Cambridge Health Alliance notes that time spent in nature can benefit older men.
“Many men are at higher risk for mood disorders as they age, from dealing with sudden life changes like health issues, the loss of loved ones and even the new world of retirement,” says Dr Strauss. “They may not want to turn to medication or therapy for help, and for many, interacting with nature is one of the best self-improvement tools they can use.”
5. Check in on other people who might be lonely
Feelings of loneliness in lockdown are very common. The British Red Cross found that 41% of survey respondents in May 2020 felt lonelier since the UK’s first lockdown.
Lockdowns have heightened the likelihood of loneliness in several groups that were already high-risk for social isolation – with the exception of students, who were not previously a cause for concern, and are significantly more likely to experience loneliness amid the current health crisis.
If you know someone who’s at high risk of social isolation during the lockdown, getting in touch with them and offering a friendly chat can make a world of difference.
If you’re really struggling in lockdown, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. The NHS recommends reaching out to a councillor, therapist or hotline if you need somebody to talk to.
Volunteering for a hotline can also help to ease loneliness. Charities like Age UK and Samaritans depend on volunteers who want to support strangers at risk of social isolation.
Researchers at Brigham Young University have found that using your time to help a stranger tends to reduce how lonely you feel. Taking part in a fundraiser or supporting a local social charity could help out with your own lockdown loneliness as well as others’. The app NextDoor connects you at random with people in your neighbourhood who need help or advice.
3. Become a citizen scientist
By joining a citizen science project, you can feel the camaraderie of working alongside thousands of other people worldwide. These collaborative volunteer projects can cover any scientific topic, from climate change to outer space – and they rely on simple tasks performed by members of the public. You could be spotting wildlife on CCTV, tracking light pollution or teaching a machine-learning algorithm.
The Natural History Museum seeks science volunteers on its website, as does NASA, National Geographic and the specialist group Zooniverse.
2. Get stuck into a great story
The quieter times of lockdown can be a great opportunity to revisit your favourite books, movies and shows, as well as trying out some new ones. The Week magazine recently compiled the best-reviewed books of 2020. If you find something new that you love, you could also create a virtual book club and start sharing some of your recommendations.
1. Do something creative
Getting stuck into a creative project can be the perfect way to beat lockdown blues. Honing your artistic skills, keeping a journal or making – or baking! – something new can generate “flow“, a state of focus that’s linked to greater life satisfaction and relaxation.