What does social distancing look like if you live alone? What if you are in a "high risk" category, and encouraged not to have in-person contact with others? Even if you live with someone else, our new Covid-19 reality has a lot of potential for people to feel lonely.
Loneliness describes the negative feelings that can occur when your needs for social connection aren't met. It is an emotional experience, not a physical one. Therefore, we need to lean on what we know impacts emotion. The following actions can help you maintain a good enough attitude, which will help you tolerate the uncertainty and fear of our current circumstances.
Self-compassion: Being aware of our feelings and knowing that others feel the same thing. Talking to ourselves the way we would talk to other people. Many people, whether they live with other people or not, are also feeling alone.
Service: How can you be of help to someone else? Can you reach out by phone, Skype, or FaceTime? If you are going to the grocery store, offer to pick up items for someone else who can't get out. Do you know someone who is overwhelmed right now? Think of something that might be helpful to them and offer to do it (when you ask someone who is overwhelmed what they need they often can't tell you, but they do know what they don't need). Being of service is a guaranteed mood-booster.
Gratitude: Brené Brown, Ph.D., strongly suggests establishing a gratitude practice. Make it a daily practice to write down what you are grateful for or to share it with someone else. Writing a gratitude list makes it easier to go back to read it when you are feeling down; sharing it with another person makes it easier to stick with the practice.
Routine: We like to know what to expect. Without the external schedules created by work, school, or appointments, we need to create our own routines. Write out a schedule for when you will do what each day. Include what time you will get up, eat meals, and get exercise. Schedule in time to reach out to other people. If possible, get outside once a day--a change of scenery is important!
Clear is kind: People always need help and support from others-now more than ever. When you know you need something, emotional or physical, it is important to tell the appropriate person* what you need. Be direct, ask, don't demand. If the first person can't help, ask someone else. Our culture idealizes individualism, but our brains are wired for connection. This tells us that we absolutely need each other. Asking for what we need may feel uncomfortable, but it helps us get what we need, and provides the other person the opportunity to do a mitzvah.
Stay Connected: At this strange time in our world, social media can connect us. Classes, services, even coffee breaks can be moved online-through free media including Facebook, FaceTime, Skype, and Meetup. If you are technologically savvy enough, set up an online meeting and invite some friends. If you can just manage the basics, invite someone to have a virtual meal with you--online or by phone.
As Jews, we have always understood the value of connection. If the COVID-19 crisis is creating disconnection for you, please make an effort to reach out and virtually touch someone.
Tracey Lipsig Kite, a licensed clinical social worker, is a trainer and educator for JCFS Chicago.
*An appropriate person is someone who is physically and emotionally able to do what is being asked of them.