While loneliness and social isolation have long been a problem in modern culture, with one study describing it as a “behavioral epidemic” , the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic has made the situation even worse. Thanks to months of social distancing and staying at home alone, millions of people are now struggling with feelings of loneliness and isolation.
And as recent studies reveal, loneliness and isolation due to COVID-19 can have devastating impacts on a person’s mental and physical health. Thankfully, there are numerous ways to combat loneliness, stay connected with others, and take care of your mental health during this time of social distancing.
The Rise of Loneliness & Isolation Due to COVID-19
A study conducted in April 2020 by SocialPro found that within the first month of COVID-19, loneliness had increased by 20 to 30 percent, and emotional distress had tripled among participants in the US, Canada, the UK, and Australia . The same study revealed that one in three US respondents were affected by COVID-related loneliness, with 30.8 percent of participants in the US reporting they always or often feel more lonely because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The rate of loneliness is even higher among young people aged 24 to 39, with 34 percent of this age range reporting they always or often feel more lonely due to COVID-19, compared to only 20 percent of people aged 56 to 74 reporting increased levels of loneliness .
A later study published in August 2020 found that loneliness and isolation due to COVID-19 are directly associated with higher levels of mental health symptoms and increased rates of alcohol and drug abuse . For example, the majority of participants reporting higher levels of loneliness due to COVID-19 also reported increased drug use (56 percent), drinking (58 percent), depression (78 percent), and anxiety (76 percent) .
Increased Substance Abuse & COVID-Related Loneliness
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, loneliness and isolation were common problems among individuals struggling with addiction and substance use disorder. Some individuals turn to alcohol or drugs as a way to cope with existing loneliness, isolation, or mental health struggles, while others withdraw and isolate themselves as their addiction worsens. No matter if loneliness and isolation arose as a side effect of addiction or was instrumental in causing it, addressing and overcoming social isolation and loneliness is one of the key cornerstones in addiction recovery.
Unfortunately, with the rise of COVID-19 and subsequent social distancing and stay-at-home orders, millions of people are experiencing the harmful effects of loneliness and isolation. For those already struggling with or vulnerable to substance use disorders, addictions, and mental health problems, this time of social distancing can be especially difficult.
But the good news is, there are numerous ways to overcome loneliness and isolation and take care of your mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you or a loved one are experiencing loneliness and isolation due to COVID-19, here are four tips to help you combat these feelings and stay connected and supported.
Four Ways to Combat Loneliness & Isolation Due to COVID 19
1. Find Ways to Connect Safely
First of all, remember that social distancing does not have to mean social isolation. Just because you aren’t able to interact with someone face-to-face does not mean you have to be alone. In today’s digital-driven world, there are numerous ways to connect with others virtually. So if you’re feeling lonely or isolated, intentionally look for creative ways to connect with others in a safe way.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Pick up the phone and call an old friend you haven’t connected with in a while
- Schedule weekly video lunch dates with co-workers
- Ask a close friend or family member if you can call and check in with them every single day
- Stream live online fitness classes
- Join an online support group
While you may not have utilized these forms of connection in the past, you’ll be surprised at how much support and connection they can offer.
2. Spend Quality Time with Loved Ones
If you live with family or have close family/friends nearby that you can still see face-to-face, now is the perfect opportunity to prioritize quality time with them. Before COVID, life often felt hectic and busy for most people, with everyone constantly running in opposite directions.
But with many people now spending the majority of their time at home, you finally have the chance to slow down and spend quality time with the people that matter most to you. Instead of sitting at home feeling extreme loneliness and isolation, seize this opportunity to connect with those in your closest circle. Here are a few ideas:
Several days each week, go on socially distanced outdoor walks/runs with a close friend.
Make a meal for someone in your close circle, and if possible, stay to share it with them.
Plan a fun night in with your significant other, the family members you live with, or even your roommate (board games, popcorn and a movie, video games, cooking together, etc.).
3. Establish a Routine
One of the biggest challenges of social distancing and stay-at-home orders is a lack of daily structure and routine. Too many hours spent laying in bed scrolling through social media or days spent lounging on the couch watching TV can lead to increased anxiety, depression, feelings of loneliness, and increased vulnerability to addiction. The best way to combat this is to establish (and stick to) a daily routine. Here are some tips to get you started:
- Wake up around the same time every day
- Engage in physical activity every day (walking, running, yoga, lifting weights, etc.)
- Eat regular, nutritious meals
- Drink lots of water
- If you work from home, schedule breaks throughout the day (including lunch) and have a set quitting time
- Make time for self-care every single day (reading, journaling, meditation, listening to music)
- If possible, get outside every day
4. Reach Out for Help
Finally, if you or a loved one are struggling with loneliness and isolation due to COVID-19, don’t try to walk through this alone; reach out for help. This is especially important if you have a history of mental illness, struggle with addiction, or have had suicidal ideation. Here are some ways you can start:
- Start meeting with a professional counselor or therapist (most offer online sessions if in-person is not an option right now)
- Join an online support group
- Reach out to a trusted friend or family member and let them know you need extra support
 Jeste, D. V., Lee, E. E. and Cacioppo, S. (2020). Battling the Modern Behavioral Epidemic of Loneliness: Suggestions for Research and Interventions. JAMA Psychiatry. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2020.0027.
 Report: Loneliness and Anxiety During Lockdown. SocialPro. https://socialpronow.com/loneliness-corona/.
 Viviana E. Horigian, Renae D. Schmidt & Daniel J. Feaster (2020) Loneliness, Mental Health, and Substance Use among US Young Adults during COVID-19, Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, DOI: 10.1080/02791072.2020.1836435
About the Author:
Sarah Musick is a freelance writer who specializes in eating disorder awareness and education. After battling with a 4-years long eating disorder, she made it her mission to help others find hope and healing in recovery.
Her work has been featured on numerous eating disorder blogs and websites. When she’s not writing, Sarah is off traveling the world with her husband.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published December 30, 2020, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on December 30, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC