If I unplug 2020 and plug it back in, will it start working again?
It’s hard to explain how I’ve been feeling. I’ve often felt scatterbrained, my energy has been frenetic, it’s been difficult to focus, and I’ve been unable to be fully present—I’ve felt off. Emotionally, I’ve felt it all. I’ve gone from feeling fine and happy to sad, angry, scared, overwhelmed, guilty, uncertain and keep wondering when I’m going to wake up from this nightmare. And in true fashion, I’ve done a lot of emotional repression.
Well, news alert: Refreshing the New York Times and being engrossed in a 24-hour news cycle does not help. Mandated work from home and words like quarantine, social distancing, pandemic, virus, death toll, and the most recent rules in many states, “don’t leave your house,” became part of our daily jargon. All of a sudden our worlds were turned upside down.
I was scared of not having intimate human connection. For me, human connection is the antidote to a bad day, and as Dr. Vivek Murthy explained to the New York Times, it has a positive effect on people’s stress and anxiety.
Being comfortable being alone, turning inward, and connecting with yourself is different than feeling lonely. For me, loneliness feels like a pit in my stomach, like a hole in my life that can’t be filled. It’s a sadness that creeps in and a shadow that can’t be lifted.
While I know that bouts of loneliness will come and go, and I’m OK with that, I wanted to prepare myself with a game plan to help myself cope with what are undoubtedly difficult times. Then, a lightbulb went off. I recorded a podcast with Jessica Cording, who is a dietitian, health coach, and the author of The Little Book of Game-Changers: 50 Healthy Habits For Managing Stress & Anxiety, and an entire chapter was dedicated to creating a loneliness game plan.
According to Cording, a loneliness game plan is so important because loneliness can trigger unhealthy coping mechanisms like stress eating, drinking, and neglecting self-care. She also explained that because loneliness sneaks up on us, it can leave us feeling unprepared. “The game plan gives us activities we can do to cope when that lonely feeling arises and helps us deal with it more effectively so it doesn’t throw us off quite so much,” she said.
My next step was figuring out how to create my own loneliness game plan. Cording advised me to “pay attention to patterns that come up for you. That will give you clues as to which scenarios you will need a game plan for.” She also shared that these plans vary from person to person.
But there is one rule, “it needs to consist of activities you truly find enjoyable and restorative. Just because I enjoy organizing or cleaning doesn’t mean you have to do that,” she said.
After talking to Jess, I was ready to take action. I was finally ready to get started on my game plan, and I’m sharing the details with you below.
My Loneliness Game Plan
Step 1: Develop a Mindfulness Practice
The first step is mindfulness, or what I’ve been calling “noticing.” Tune in with yourself to understand what triggers you to feel lonely or what makes you feel good. Basically, figuring out how you feel in the moment so you can make decisions accordingly is a game-changer.
Here are two recent examples:
- Mindless eating: When I don’t feel like doing something or am resistant, I all of a sudden get hungry. Hmmm. Noticing …
- Feeling invigorated: I was dreading getting on a podcast interview last week. I just wasn’t in the mood, but then something awesome happened. I finished the call and realized I was totally in the present moment during that call. I felt light and energized. This helped me have the same energy and excitement for the call the next day.
Try taking a few pauses today and notice what’s going on in your mind and body. I love using resources like meditations from Organically Jamie, the Calm App, Hay House Meditations, or listening to some binaural beats (varied frequency music for stress, anxiety, sleep, and more) or sound baths on Spotify.
Your mindfulness practice does not have to be anything crazy—even five minutes of meditation, journaling, and breathing can be supportive in helping you identify and deal with your emotions.
Step 2: Make The “Feel Good List”
The next thing I was able to do after embracing mindfulness for a few days was to realize what makes me feel good and identify what supports me when those lonely feelings creep in. Some of these include exercise, cooking meals, walking around the grocery store (I know that’s weird), reading (blogs, books), being creative by writing in my journal and working on my podcast, listening to music, learning something new, talking to a friend, and being quiet and still.
Remember: it’s totally fine if your list looks different from mine or your best friend’s!
My list is really long and is currently sitting on my desk. When I start to feel isolated or down, I take a look at the list and remember how many things I love to do and all of the options that I can do where I’m at.
Step 3: Know Your Triggers
My trigger list often depends on my mood. For example, I know that mindless scrolling through social media makes me feel alone when I’m already in a tough spot emotionally, but I know that social and technology, when used mindfully, can actually be powerful mechanisms for connection.
A few other triggers for me include too much TV, not being heard, and seeing happy families with their significant others. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy for happy families, but it’s just something I want that I don’t have—it has nothing to do with that person. When I’m down and out, I try to avoid these triggers.
Identifying these triggers and then being able to avoid them when I need to allows me to prevent myself from slipping into bad habits and unhealthy patterns as well as preserve my mental health. There are also times when these triggers are unavoidable. Because I know what it feels like when I’m triggered, I’m more able to acknowledge the feeling and move on. It doesn’t mean that it’s not hard or painful, but that feeling doesn’t last as long.
Step 4: Find A Mantra (or three!)
Compassionate self-talk helps me feel less lonely in so many ways. Simply repeating to myself “you are not alone” or “you are OK” help me feel like I am part of something bigger than myself.
In times like these, when we’re forced to distance ourselves physically from others, finding a sense of inner peace is so important.
Gabby Bernstein has great mantras that I like to incorporate into my practice, but your mantras don’t have to be anything formal, just something that will help you feel better.
Step 5: Gain Compassion
Compassion is always needed, but I believe that now more than ever, the more compassion we can extend to ourselves and to others, the more we’ll all benefit. We’re all experiencing something unique, we all have different reactions and show up to fear in our own way.
For example, someone starts reacting differently at work and then you get anxious. Take a moment, pause, and ask yourself what they may be feeling in this moment. The answer is that we just don’t know. This exercise can be so powerful in stepping into someone else’s shoes.
And for yourself, accepting where you’re at right now and remembering it’s OK to not be OK can help you be more gentle with your soul that needs a little TLC.
Step 6: Take Action
Now that you know you just an inch better, create your plan.
I did this by writing down all of the different things I can do when I start feeling that loneliness creeps in. The first one is always circling back to step 1 and getting more mindful. Others include the things that make me feel good like I mentioned above, plus dancing around my room like a Broadway star, taking a bath, doing a manicure, or putting together a puzzle. Right now, I’ve been making a concentrated effort to make more FaceTime calls and trying to “make lemonade out of lemons,” or the best out of a bad situation.
Here are a few questions I ask myself to put my loneliness game plan into action:
- How do you feel right now?
- What is actually happening?
- Are you really alone?
- What are you grateful for?
- What can you do right now that will feel good?
It is not an easy time, and the impact of social/physical distancing on our mental health will be profound. I think if we are able to take a proactive approach, and I understand that not all of us feel capable (and that’s OK), we’ll be able to find creative solutions and new ways of connecting.
To be honest, what I want right now is a big freaking hug, and unfortunately, I can’t have one. But I feel so grateful to have built out a tool belt with things that I can use to cope with these new feelings. I might not always be able to access them right when I need them, but I find comfort knowing they’re there. Remember your tool belt won’t look like mine, and that’s what makes life fun.
Tell me how you’re feeling in the comments below, and if you’re feeling alone, please connect with me. I’d love to hear from you.