The COVID-19 crisis, working from home, and being isolated from friends and family leaves many of us stressed, anxious, angry, and perhaps worst of all, exceptionally lonely.
Below are actionable, science-backed tips from my interview on the 5 Things We Can Each Do to Help Solve the Loneliness Epidemic.
Tip #1: Social media can contribute to loneliness. Use it the right way.
Technology isn’t all good or bad. It depends a lot on how we use it. One example is with social media. As it turns out in research, the more time spent on social media, the lower your self-esteem. Spending 1–3 hours on social media can drop your self-esteem by a whole third. 3–5 hours, and you’re down more than half, below the threshold for “low” esteem.
Why is this? 86% of people on social media make upward comparisons. Some research shows people who limited their social media use have lower depressive and loneliness scores. If we feel worse after using social media, why do we keep using it instead of meeting new people? A few other cognitive biases are at play. First, we tend to underestimate how much emotion plays into our choices and behaviors. Second, we overestimate how intensely and for how long a future event will impact us. Positive or negative, it’s rarely as influential as you think. When we turn to social media while feeling sad or bored, we 1) aren’t aware of how much those negative emotions are pushing us to act, and 2) overestimate how much better social media will make us feel.
In one study, participants guessed whether spending 20 minutes on Facebook would make them feel better or worse. Most guessed that using Facebook would improve their mood. Meanwhile, different participants actually used Facebook for 20 minutes. They reported worse moods than those who just browsed the internet or did nothing.
What’s fascinating is, how social media was used mattered. While passive browsing felt like wasted time, talking to friends and making plans slightly boosted emotional well-being. Next time you’re on social media think: How am I using this — am I terrifying myself by reading all the news about Coronavirus? Am I jealously watching stories from those who have a "quarantine boo" or someone to cuddle up with while I'm all alone? These might be negative interactions with social media. However, if I'm actively messaging an old friend, that's a more meaningful, less solitary, and more uplifting use of your time.
Tip #2: Get comfortable with being alone. While it sounds counter-intuitive, loneliness is actually very separate from being alone, or isolated in quarantine. It's whether we deal with being alone in a healthy vs. unhealthy way that makes all the difference. We can use it as a time to introspect and get to know ourselves. We can use it for self-improvement or long-term planning. Or, we can succumb to feeling sorry for ourselves. Capsule starts off with a feeling wheel because managing our own emotions is core to how we handle any situation in which we find ourselves.
Tip #3: Use cognitive behavioral therapy and a growth mindset to get yourself out of your shell. One of the toughest things about being alone with our thoughts is that often times, they aren’t pretty. Socially-anxious thoughts such as, “I’ll be alone forever,” or, “everyone dislikes me” are examples of cognitive distortions and can be retrained through some simple steps: looking objectively at the facts, thinking of other, less-severe reasons for said facts, and reflecting on how you might act if the reverse of your thinking were true. For example, perhaps the fact is that you haven't heard from friends and you're disappointed. An immediate thought might be, "Wow, I can't believe they all don't care," which would make you withdraw even further. A retrained thought might be, “They may be dealing with a lot of stressors themselves, or maybe their job is under a lot of pressure." This thought might lead you to behave more productively, such as reaching out to see how they are doing.
Tip #4: Try something new. Part of becoming a more secure individual is getting out of your comfort zone to do things that feel vulnerable or awkward but in the long run, contribute to relationship satisfaction. Do yoga "together" virtually. Take a class to upskill. Reach out to people in companies or industries you've always been curious about, but never managed to make time to explore. Now's your chance!
Tip #5: Practice curiosity and inclusion. There’s a wealth of research around ostracism and how it hurts as badly as physical pain. So yes, being quarantined and feeling like others think you're somehow a leper is just as painful as the virus itself. Support those who get sick - they need you more now than ever.
Much of the time, we don’t mean to purposefully exclude. But, it can be as simple as wincing when someone coughs or judging someone based on the way they look. Coronavirus has unleashed some latent racism that is not just hurtful to the individual, but hurtful to the ostraciser, also! Research shows that people who put others down and exclude others are not better off at all. Rather, their well-being takes a hit as well.
If you've been ostracised, here's a science-backed tip: don't feel vengeful, but do remember a time you felt powerful. Reflecting and writing about a time you felt in control can combat that hurtful feeling.
Tip #6: Have empathy for your leaders and their tough leadership decisions. If you’re a CEO or HR Manager, University Dean of Student Life or Director of Counseling and Psychology Services, you're probably struggling with all sorts of people issues, from layoffs to angry students and parents. You may feel the world on your shoulders. That's an incredibly lonely job at the top.
As students, employees, parents, and colleagues, we need to feel for the loneliness at the top. It isn't easy to make some of those major decisions, like letting people go or shutting school. As one administrator so bravely discusses, they're trying their hardest, and getting angry doesn't help anyone. Rather, try to practice empathy.
Tip #7: For leaders, create structural change to keep your people healthy, inside and out. Mental wellness and management skills have never been more critical. If you're a manager or a professor, you are a person of great influence. Your people operate in an environment that takes its tone from the top, and as such, you are in a position to create exponential change.
Right now, you have the great opportunity to invest in your people. They have time on their hands, they're lonely, and looking for something to keep them occupied and healthy, both in terms of mental health and physical health. They're looking to you to provide those resources right when they need it the most. The problem is that these resources are really hard to cobble together last minute. It is probably weighing on your Learning & Development teams or HR managers.
Capsule’s mission is to make that exceedingly simple. Our online/mobile program covers everything from figuring out what you want to do with your life, to fighting with your spouse while in cramped quarters, to motivating a team with purpose during a time of uncertainty. Stay safe, stay well. If we can be of any help during this time, reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Link to website: www.createcapsule.com
About the author: Take it from a former investor: you are your best investment. Jasmine Chen is the creator of Capsule, a science-backed cognitive training to manage stress and anxiety, improve work productivity, and build lasting relationships. After Princeton, Harvard Business School, and years of investing, Jasmine was disappointed to find herself and many high-achieving peers still dealing ineffectively with personal or professional problems, thus wasting a lot of productive mindspace. So, she left a hedge fund to write the course she hopes can change the way entire companies and campuses communicate and develop future leaders. Her mission is structural change for common emotional literacy: because both mental health and great managers start with self-management.