The coronavirus crisis is affecting us all in different ways, and one group we’re hearing about a lot at the moment are people who live alone.
With similarities to annual Christmas campaigns, much of the coverage is concerned, lovely and well-intended. And important — it’s critical that those who are struggling with the effects of isolation & loneliness are able to access support when they need it, particularly where they are vulnerable. Yet the underlying assumption — that we are all victims, crying into our pillows every night – is a limiting one.
It’s a common stereotype that people who live alone are inherently lonely. However loneliness
implies a sense of disconnect – of being alone in the world – which many long-standing ‘solos’ (or
people who live alone) struggle to relate to. More and more research shows us that while solos may
not always have a ‘significant other,’ under usual circumstances they are actually on average more
likely than those in couples to be connected to a higher number of friends and family, more likely to be active in their local communities, and less likely to experience loneliness than others in the same income bracket. Under usual circumstances, people who live alone use words like resilient, empowered, independent and connected to describe themselves.
In fact, many of the more challenging feelings being experienced by solos at the moment actually
stem from typically being very highly connected to others, rather than disconnected – where we do
feel loneliness, it’s likely to be one feeling amongst many, and in many cases may not the
predominant one. At the Living Well Alone Project, we manage an online community of nearly
12,000 solos, who know that the real picture is far more nuanced. So I thought I’d use this
opportunity to describe ten other feelings which characterise the ups and downs of living alone
through the lockdown, drawing on what we’ve heard from the solo community. Hint: it’s more complicated than you might think!
1) Touch deprived / physically isolated. For most solos, the loss of in-person contact is by far the
hardest part of the lockdown. While calls are good and video calls are great, hugs are hard to
replicate. This isn’t about being lonely, per se. It’s possible to be highly connected to others, and
still feel the loss of physical contact acutely. We’ve heard from people with autism and mental
health needs whose face-to-face support services have been replaced with phone calls, and
from people leading busy, active lives who’ve moved all of their usual social activities online.
The message is the same – even where you are in regular contact with others, the loss of
physical contact is the harshest reality of the lockdown. There are very few work-arounds here,
though stroking/cuddling pets, giving yourself a foot massage, warm baths with scented
candles, and using weighted blankets can all help calm the sympathetic nervous system. It can
also help to plan meet-ups with friends for when the restrictions ease, and visualise yourself
having a lovely hug from a friend.
2) Anxious / overwhelmed. With more time, fewer distractions, and a near-constant stream of
daunting news, it’s not surprising that unsettling thoughts can start to seem a lot more
overwhelming when you’re alone. Again, this actually stems from being hyper-connected rather
than disconnected, and we’re hearing more and more from people who are struggling to
manage high levels of anxiety about what’s happening in the world. Disconnection is actually
key here – try to limit checking the news to a couple of times a day, and avoid doing this just
before bedtime. Journaling, meditation, exercise, and saying your thoughts out loud – to
yourself or to a friend – can all help make thoughts seem smaller and more manageable. It can
also be helpful to write down what you can and can’t control, and try to focus on the first. If you
are suffering periods of sustained anxiety or depression, however, then it’s very important to
talk to your GP.
3) Sad / grieving. We’re entering a period of collective grieving, and solos are absolutely feeling
this too. This can be sadness for those we know who are ill or who have passed away – it can
also be sadness for the many thousands who have died, even where we don’t know them. For
good or bad, we’re part of a collective grief process shared by millions of people. Self-care and
allowing yourself time to grieve are really important – and if you can, regularly talking over how
you’re feeling with a friend.
4) Relieved. Many solos are telling us that they’re feeling a strong sense of the relief at the
moment. This can be relief from the fear of catching the virus, and also from the fear of passing
it on to others. There can be relief that the pace of life has slowed down – for more introverted
types, this can be relief from feeling as though you have to socialise if you don’t want to, and
for others it’s relief from feeling as though you have to keep with everyone else. Whatever the
individual reason, relief is a very common emotion at the moment.
5) Appreciative / grateful. With the lockdown limiting every aspect of our lives, many solos have
told us that they’re feeling more and more grateful for what they have. There are many
positives in having your own space, including the peace, quiet, and freedom to run to your own
schedule. We’re also realising what and who we value, and feeling grateful for the little things –
birds singing, the post arriving, skype coffee dates with co-workers, our daily walks. We also
know now who we really miss! It’s possible to cultivate gratitude as a powerful counter to
anxiety and depression, and worth building at least some practices into your daily routine.
6) Peaceful / content. While being alone with your thoughts can be difficult, it can also be
opportunity for stillness and reflection. Many people who live alone are finding that the quiet
and the slower pace means the lockdown is an opportunity to take time out to recharge, reflect,
and to focus on what’s really important to them. Meditation, yoga, prayer and other forms of
spiritual practice can all help cultivate a deep sense of peace and contentedness.
7) Focused / motivated. From upcycling to gardening, cleaning to house repairs, paperwork to
skills-sharing, to gaming, reading and arts and crafts, solos already good at structuring and filling
alone-time – and in some ways the lockdown just presents another opportunity to get things
done. It’s also time which many are using for goal-setting, learning new skills and personal
8) Connected. With more time on our hands, many of us are reaching out to (and hearing from)
people we’ve not spoken to for a while. We’re also talking to our neighbours more – whether
it’s through clapping on the doorstep, dropping off supplies, or swapping phone numbers.
Rather than making us more isolated, many solos are finding that the virus is actually helping
them build even more connections than usual – both at distance, and in their immediate
communities. Actively working through your contacts lists, or volunteering your time can help
deepen this sense of connection.
9) No different to usual. Lockdown…what lockdown? There are some solos – especially those who
are still working – who’ve told us that the lockdown feels similar to having a busy week, plus a
few quiet weekends in a row. In other words, very little change to usual!
10) Envied. Although 8 million people live by themselves in the UK, as a solo it’s often easy to feel
surrounded by couples and families. It’s been surreal and actually quite uplifting for many solos to find aspects their solo lifestyles envied by family, friends and co-workers who are in
lockdown in close proximity with partners, families, friends or housemates. We’re certainly not
complaining about this one!