While many of us are currently quarantined with our family or significant other due to COVID-19 – which may have its own myriad challenges – there is another large population that is currently quarantining in complete isolation.
Despite the fact that there are potentially helpful benefits of quality time spent alone, there is something to be said about how challenging spending time alone can actually feel when the choice to be with others is removed.
For some it may be that they are simply unaccustomed to spending time by themselves.
While for others, it could be that spending time alone helps them get more in touch with potentially uncomfortable feelings.
And still, others may have some stigma and negative reactions about spending time alone (e.g.: “Only a person with no friends spends time alone!”).
Whatever the reason, spending time alone can feel isolating (especially with the unknown around when it will end).
To help you navigate this period of uncertainty and loneliness our therapists have compiled the following 5 tips to make your time spent alone feel a tiny bit more comfortable:
1) Use breathing techniques to lean into any discomfort that arises.
An initial inclination when facing discomfort is to turn to our phones or turn on the TV or radio for noise, company, and distraction.
While this may not necessarily be bad, it can also prevent you from feeling your actual feelings that are surfacing now that you’re alone.
So instead of following the impulse to text/call or stream something, instead, pause, notice how you’re actually feeling and try breathing into any uncomfortable feelings that may be arising.
A tool we’ve found to be incredibly effective is a simple presence and breathing exercise:
Sit comfortably in a chair or on the couch. Let your eyes close and rest your hands on your legs or on the furniture in whatever way feels comfortable to you. Slowly, and with your lips slightly open, begin taking a deep breath in, pushing your lower abdomen out with air, bringing oxygen to the bottom of your lungs. As you breathe in, notice your feet on the floor, your butt on the cushion, your back against the furniture. On your exhale, release your breath slowly — a few counts longer than your inhale — and continue bringing your awareness to any sensations or sounds you notice — maybe your fingers on the fabric of your pants, the sound of traffic outside, the breeze coming in through the window… Breathe in and breathe out slowly, noticing all the slight sensations around you for 10-15 slow, mindful breaths, allowing your body to relax and your mind to center. And finally, when you’re ready, come back to the room.
And remember, if you feel emotional discomfort when you’re alone, that’s a clue that some important feeling is trying to get your attention.
Pay attention to it with gentle and compassionate awareness.
2) Find, follow, and connect with your kindred spirits on social media.
While contacting close friends and family is a great way to feel connected when in quarantine, there may be instances in which you feel that you are still lacking the amount of social interaction you once experienced while working with coworkers, mingling at happy hour, or simply interacting with others at the gym.
In that case, we recommend looking to social media to seek out your like-minded kindred spirits.
Following someone online may not bloom into a real connection right away, but this may happen naturally over time and will give you a chance to stay social while expanding your network.
Similarly, consider how you use social media, and perhaps use it in a different way to encourage deeper connection. i.e. be more vulnerable on your social platforms, don’t just make it be a highlight reel.
You may deepen connections you already have or draw new people to you. And if it feels too risky to do this with your established profiles, consider setting up a Finstagram, a separate, alternate account you only use with your besties (or soon-to-be-besties).
3) Challenge the uncomfortable thoughts that arise for you.
If potentially painful or challenging thoughts arise such as, “What if I actually do end up alone one day?!”, as much as possible, try challenging these thoughts with other, more moderate, and supportive thoughts.
For example, “I spent time texting with my best friend the other evening and I have a Facetime scheduled with my family to attend at the end of the week. It’s not true that no one wants to spend with me when I have things like this lined up.” or “I’m alone because I’m choosing to remain alone for my own health, not because I don’t have other options.”
Challenge any scary, unsupportive, or self-critical thoughts that arise and, hopefully, this will make the process of being alone feel easier.
4) If it feels helpful, imagine that you’re dating yourself.
Be deeply interested in and curious about cultivating positive experiences for yourself when you’re alone.
Cook yourself a nice dinner, sign up for a class online, follow your impulses and desires, and design a nourishing day or afternoon for yourself.
By giving yourself attention, time, and nice treatment, you may find that you don’t feel lonely even while you’re alone.
5) Remember that you are not alone in this feeling.
Loneliness can feel so hard. It’s a constant tension we navigate as humans, longing to be in contact but ultimately being separate and trying to cope with this often painful reality.
But it is important to keep in mind that loneliness is a far more common adult experience (even before COVID-19) than what you may imagine based on sitcoms, social posts, or even what you one-day imagined life may feel like.
Take heart if you feel lonely. This is one of the key tasks we all must face as humans.