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COVID-19 and Loneliness: When It Seems Like No One Cares

Everyone goes through times when they feel disconnected from others and alone in the world. This can be especially hard when you’re already feeling low and it seems like no one really notices or cares. COVID-19 has made feelings of loneliness pretty common, and even harder to overcome – it’s tough to feel connected to people if you aren’t seeing them in person.

Know that you aren’t alone in feeling lonely.

Part of not having much in-person social time also means that you probably don’t know how other people are really feeling. When you’re lonely, it’s normal to feel like you’re the only one who isn’t okay. Based on Mental Health America’s screening data, loneliness/isolation is the number one thing contributing to feelings of depression or anxiety right now – over 72% of respondents said it was one of their top 3 stressors. 

Even the people who look like they’re doing fine – whether they’re posting about Zoom game nights all the time, have a partner that they live with, or seem constantly busy with fun hobbies – struggle at times. Most of us know that social media isn’t a completely accurate portrayal of reality, but during the pandemic, it may feel even more consuming. Many people are spending more time on social media than ever before - and all that scrolling, combined with less in-person socializing, can make it seem like social media does give you the full picture. It can be a great way to stay in touch and up to date on your friends’ lives, especially if they don’t live close by, but remember – you’re only seeing the parts they want to share with you and their followers.

Tip: put your phone down (or step away from your screen of choice)! Try to commit to one day each week without social media or do a week-long “cleanse.” Delete the apps from your phone if you need to – it’s easy to open up Instagram out of habit without even realizing that you are doing it. Instead of scrolling, give a friend or family member a call or plan a virtual hang out.

People can’t read your mind.

When you’re feeling low, it’s probably obvious to you – you’re the one living it. But you can’t expect people to know how you’re doing if you don’t tell them. When you’re feeling depressed or anxious, it can be really hard to reach out to people, even just to say hi. Maybe typing up a text takes too much energy, or you feel like you don’t have anything to say, or you’re worried about bothering people with your problems. Then before you even realize it, you’ve barely talked to your friends or family all week. When this happens, it’s easy to get even more upset and fall into some common thinking traps: Why didn’t they reach out? I’m obviously not okay, does no one care?

Think about it this way: what if one of your friends suddenly got distant from you? You would probably assume that they have a lot going on and don’t have much time to talk, or that you did something wrong and now they’re mad at you. Right now, they might be thinking that same thing – that you’re too busy or just don’t want to hear from them. It’s not easy to do, but sometimes the only way you can get what you want or need is by asking for it.

Let go of resentment.

It’s completely normal to feel hurt when friends don’t reach out to you or fully show up when you are struggling, especially if you have been supportive to them. It may make you not want to reach out at all but give them some grace – this is far from a normal time in life and most people are pretty distracted with their own feelings.

If you want to talk to them, don’t hold a grudge or play “hard to get” because you feel like they haven’t been the greatest friend recently. When you’re up for texting them or reaching out, do it! What you say is up to you: you can tell them you’re having a hard time, ask how they’re doing, or just send a meme. You’ll most likely feel better about your friendship (and a little less lonely in general) once you reconnect with them.

It may be hard for others to support you when they’re struggling too.

The pandemic has been hard on almost everyone for one reason or another. Sometimes it’s helpful to be going through the same thing as others – you can understand how they are feeling and share what’s worked for you. But after almost a full year of COVID-19 stress, most people are exhausted. Everyone is just trying to get through this until things are better and closer to being “normal” again - and they might not have mental energy to support you right now. It doesn’t mean they don’t care; it just means that they need to take care of themselves first.

Almost everyone needs more support right now than most people are able to give. You might not feel up for being someone else’s rock right now either - and that’s okay. It has nothing to do with them – just like your friend not being able to support you has nothing to do with you. Try reaching out to other friends that you may not be as close with – it’s common to only rely on one or two people for emotional support, but this might be a chance for you to connect on a deeper level with someone new. You might be surprised by who else is feeling down and wants to talk.

Try out therapy or join a virtual support group.  

A therapist is someone who is fully invested in your well-being. They care about you and want to hear about your bad week (or your great week), that stressful assignment you’re working on, or whatever else is on your mind. They may not be a friend, but they are someone that you can safely unload on and vent to. If you’re already in therapy, maybe you want to go more often – ask if you can increase sessions from weekly to twice a week. You can also start group therapy or join a support group for another safe space to talk about your struggles. This may even help you feel less lonely since you’ll be connecting with a whole group of people.

If nothing is helping:

If you’re trying your best to stay positive and connected to others but just can’t get out of this rut, take a mental health screen – you may be experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition. Need to talk to someone but not sure who to turn to? Try calling a warmline for some support or text MHA to 741-741 to reach a trained crisis counselor.