I think we can safely assume that the COVID-19 pandemic has left just about everyone feeling a little more alone than usual. Community events are being rescheduled, classes are taking place virtually, and family gatherings are getting cancelled. Even if we do spend time with others in person, we do so from six feet away with half of our faces covered by masks. There’s no doubt that we’re all feeling a little bit less connected to others in one way or another, and oftentimes that loss of human connection can lead to feelings of loneliness. Especially during the holiday season, like we are now, these feelings can be even more prevalent. So how can we combat this lonely feeling that has become so pervasive during the pandemic?
Acknowledge your circumstances
The first step is to notice the context in which your loneliness is occurring. Like I talked about above, life is looking a lot different than it normally would right now. The pandemic is forcing a lot of us into a lot more solitary of lifestyles than we’re used to. Take a moment to reflect on how you are experiencing your day-to-day life these days. What’s different? What’s the same? Have the changes you’ve experienced been adding stress or relieving stress? In what ways? All of these factors inform the way you process and cope with your feelings during this time. Acknowledge your circumstances and allow yourself to recognize how plain hard life is right now. When you’ve created space for your loneliness to exist in context, it feels a little more approachable.
Create the right moments of connection
Loneliness is different than being alone. Loneliness can rear its ugly head for a lot of different reasons. Maybe you’ve been home spending quality time with your partner while in quarantine, but you still feel like you’re missing some sort of social engagement. Maybe you’re an essential worker and have been continuing to see people face-to-face this whole time, but you come home at the end of the day to an empty apartment. Or maybe you’re a college student living with a roommate and other friends in a dormitory, but you haven’t gotten to see your significant other in weeks since they go to another school.
What kind of connection are you seeking in your life right now? Are you missing getting together with friends or do you just want someone to keep you company? Are you wishing you could go on a romantic dinner date out with your spouse, or perhaps remembering how nice it was to see a stranger smile as you pass each other in the grocery store? There are a lot of ways to create moments of connection in our lives, even now. But if we’re continually trying to smile at strangers when what we really need is to chat with a friend, the itch will never be scratched (so to speak).
Take care of something
Maybe you’re sitting there reading this article and thinking to yourself, “Nice try, Tabitha, I literally can’t do any of the things you’re talking about so I’m just going to be lonely forever.” Not so fast! You haven’t stumped me yet. If you have no way of contacting other human beings to create connection (whatever the reason may be), find connection in something non-human! A great way to reduce feelings of loneliness is to take care of something. Why do you think so many people adopted dogs over the past six months? Take an hour or two to pull weeds in your garden, rescue a homeless kitten, or plant a few seeds in a pot in your kitchen. Having something to nurture, whether that’s a pet, a plant, or a caterpillar you found on the sidewalk yesterday, can be a significant remedy to your lonely feelings.
Hold on to hope
One of the most important keys to surviving loneliness is to hold on to the hope that one day you won’t feel as lonely anymore. If you can find a way to expect the best for yourself (i.e. that your feelings of loneliness won’t last forever), you create a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you focus on the light at the end of the tunnel, you will begin to find more little moments of connection in your daily life and notice the times when your lonely feelings aren’t as strong. As the days pass, loneliness loses its power, and at the same time, you regain your strength.
If loneliness is a struggle for you right now, or even if it has been for a while, the therapists at EVOLVEwithin can help. Call us at (262) 649-3297 to reserve your spot. We are here for you!
Article contribution by Tabitha Schroeder, MS, MFT-IT
Whether you’ve been married to someone with an anxiety disorder for twenty years or you just went on your first date last week, it can be tough to figure out the best way to support and be there for your significant other when they are struggling. To make things even more complicated, not every anxiety disorder is the same, and even two people with the same diagnosis might experience their symptoms in completely different ways! Regardless of what they’re going through, it’s hard to feel like a helpless bystander while your loved one is suffering. As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I not only work with individual diagnoses, but I pay special attention to the ways those diagnoses can affect relationships (which is a lot of ways!). I’ve put together four brief tips to help you start navigating these challenging waters:
1. Do your research
Read up on your partner’s diagnosis and symptoms. While it’s important to let them tell you about their individual experience with their anxiety, it can also help them feel cared for and understood if you take the time to educate yourself on what they might be going through. For example, if your significant other has Generalized Anxiety Disorder, one of their symptoms might be becoming tired more easily than usual or even just feeling tired for no apparent reason. If you’ve done your research and know that fatigue is a common symptom of anxiety, you’ll be able to sympathize with your partner when they complain of not knowing why they’re so tired all the time. Another great way to do your research is to read articles (like this one!) that offer tips on how to help someone with the diagnosis that your partner has. So, great work! You’re already taking a positive step toward helping your loved one manage their anxiety.
2. Don’t take it personally
Sometimes (or oftentimes) your partner’s anxiety might spill into your relationship. They might feel some anxiety about whether you still love them or about whether your relationship is the “real deal”. They might ask you for reassurance over and over again no matter how much you say you want to be with them. As the person on the receiving end of these insecurities, you might start to wonder what you’re doing wrong or why your significant other doesn’t trust you the way you trust them. While it’s normal to have those thoughts, my encouragement to you is to remember that your loved one’s anxiety isn’t about you. If you take their worries personally, it’s easy to think that they have anxiety about your relationship because they think you’re an untrustworthy person or that you’re the type of person to cheat on them. In reality, the source of their anxiety is probably not related to you at all! If your partner tells you they have some fears related to your relationship or if they exhibit any of the behaviors I’ve mentioned here, take a moment to remind yourself that their anxiety doesn’t mean you’ve done anything to hurt them, and ask them how you can help them ease some of those worries. Your support in those moments can be so valuable to the strength and the growth of your relationship.
3. Listen first, suggestions later
You care about your partner, right? So, naturally, you want to make all their problems go away and ensure that they never feel any negative emotions - ever! It is really hard to just stand by and watch someone you love suffering through moments of anxiety. How often do you catch yourself thinking or saying something along the lines of “Maybe if you tried …xyz… then you wouldn’t feel so anxious”? We automatically go into problem-solving mode when we know our partner is in distress because we want to help them to not be in distress anymore. The trouble with anxiety is that there isn’t a perfect solution that makes anxiety go away. Even when certain things work in some circumstances, they might not work all the time. On top of all that, when anxiety hits, it can be hard to process potential solutions when your nervous system is on such high alert. When your partner tells you they feel anxious about something, let your first response be listening. Help them to get through that difficult moment. Then, later on after their anxiety has calmed, offer your suggestions: “I know you were really worried about that thing before. I was wondering if you had ever tried …xyz… Do you think that would help?” When your significant other has anxiety, giving them space to feel heard and supported can often be more helpful than any piece of advice you could offer.
4. Consider therapy
What better way to support your significant other with anxiety than to learn how to do it from the experts: therapists! Couples’ therapy can be a really amazing bonding opportunity for people in relationships, even if you don’t have anything you consider to be a major “problem” you want to work through. A therapist can help you and your partner learn more about how to work together and support each other through a variety of difficult situations, including times when your partner is feeling anxious. If you’re not quite feeling up to couples’ therapy, or if your significant other isn’t ready to try it yet, you might also consider individual therapy for yourself. I imagine you may be thinking, “But I don’t have the diagnosis, my partner does!” True, but therapy isn’t just for people with diagnoses. Therapy can be just a space to vent and process day-to-day life, a time to discover more about yourself, or, in this case, an opportunity to practice skills that will help you in your relationship with a person who has anxiety.
If you’re interested in trying out couples’ therapy, individual therapy, or even both at the same time, the therapists at EVOLVEwithin would love to help! Give us a call at (262) 649-3297 or visit our website to learn more or to request an appointment. We can’t wait to get to know you!
Article contribution by Tabitha Schroeder, MS, MFT-IT