Skip to main content

Combating Isolation in the Time of COVID-19

Person standing alone, staring up at a multi-colored galaxy of stars.

Photo by Greg Rakozy

When the news came that we would be quarantining for a month to slow the coronavirus’s rate of spread, I remember having a distinct thought that a few weeks of this would be okay. It would be bearable.

I thought I could deal with the isolation. I thought that if I dug into being alone, maybe I could force myself to be okay with it. It didn’t work. As the shelter-in-place order wore on, I grew more sluggish, my mood worsened, and I found myself struggling to find meaning in anything I did.

When friends or family called, I would pretend I was okay. I did not want anyone to worry about me, so I’d put on a smile, make jokes, and talk in a general sense about how hard this experience has been without ever really getting into my own struggles. I didn’t want to feel like a burden given how convinced I was that I should be able to pull myself out of my loneliness.

In the end, I was saved by a phone call from a dear friend. This person was someone I trusted, and they gave me the space to voice how I was truly feeling. The hurt that I felt from missing my friends. The grief that I was carrying from all the cancelled events that I was looking forward to for weeks. The fear of uncertainty that was gripping me in this moment. As it turned out, this friend was feeling similarly and we connected, not despite the distance, but because of it. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so alone.

It’s Okay to Need Each Other

There’s a reason that a vast majority of people live in large populated areas just like there’s a reason for why we tend to live next to bodies of water: as water is essential to human life, so is connection and our proximity to others. Our DNA is encoded with the experiences of those that came before us, and that programming informs us that our chance for a safe, healthy, and fulfilled life increases when we’re surrounded by others.

What happens when our ability to be around others is hindered like it is right now? We start to feel isolated. If left unchecked, that isolation will grow into loneliness, an emotion that’s not made any more bearable through prolonged time away or by isolating further.

Our strength as a collective lives in being open and vulnerable with the people we love and who love us. If you’re dealing with feelings of isolation and/or loneliness right now, I encourage you to reach out to a loved one and truly let them know how you are doing in the midst of this pandemic. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to be emotional. It’s okay to admit that you’re struggling. While we may not be together physically, we can still get through this crisis together by relying and leaning on each other. In fact, the only way we come out of this strong enough to do the real work of repairing our broken society is to spend this time both alone and together.

If you are someone that’s struggling with what I’ve discussed in this post, here is a list of things that I’d recommend you try to combat isolation:

  • Set up group calls with friends, like a virtual happy hour or a virtual arts and crafts nights where everyone participates in some kind of project of their own choosing
  • Schedule one-on-one calls with a friend or relative to catch up
  • Straight up just call someone on the fly. (Not everything has to be scheduled!)
  • Organize watch parties where you and others watch a movie or TV show at the same time
  • Start a book club and set up a weekly time where people can check in and discuss their thoughts on the book
  • If you’re working remotely, ask a colleague or two if they’d like to co-work for a few hours, where you focus on work but also have their presence there so you can talk about random things like you would if you were in the office
  • A number of gyms and dance studios are offering classes online where you can participate over video and workout with others.
  • Look into games that can be played online and challenge both strangers and friends to play with you. (I’m a big fan of the Jackbox Party Game packs as they’re made for adults)
  • Go on a social distance walk with a neighbor. (I’ve done a couple of these around my neighborhood; it feels weird to keep a bit of distance between you and friend, but everything feels weird right now so do it anyway!)

I was encouraged to get creative about how to meet my need for connection, so if none of the above seems like a good fit for you, don’t be afraid to try something new that you’ve come up with.

In the end, no matter how you’re feeling or getting through this moment in history, remember: you aren’t going through this alone. Who knows, maybe you’ll catch me online in a virtual session. Until then, take care of your health – both your physical and mental. I look forward to being and working with you all to create a more just society on the other side of COVID.

One Comment

  • Thanks Jeremiah. I have definitely found myself getting irritable and sluggish and have been trying to figure out what’s going on. Part of the problem I’m finding with phone calls and zooms is that they are always about articulating something, and what I really miss is just hanging out without having to be talking all the time. Jackbox Party Games is a good suggestion. I’ll check it out!

Rockwood Community Call

Kris Mereigh,  MPH, CWP.

public health and wellness strategist

June 27 | 12 PT / 3 ET