Solo Survival: How people who live alone have adapted during Covid-19
How people who live alone have adapted during Covid-19
we spend quality time with someone, the areas of the brain linked to motivation are activated. When we feel lonely, areas associated with distress are activated instead.
‘Feel’ is the important word. It’s possible to be alone, without feeling lonely, and it’s possible to feel lonely in the company of others. Loneliness is, at its essence, a set of mis-matched expectations – where the quality of one’s interpersonal relationships does not match one’s expectation or hope for them.
The Covid-19 pandemic physically cut people off from their family and friends. People who have been living alone since the pandemic started are one group who have had to radically rethink their expectations around social contact. There are a lot of misperceptions about solo living, and the most widespread is that living alone is a uniquely lonely experience. Longstanding solos would tell you otherwise – the uniqueness is in our freedom from distractions, the peace, control over our schedules, and the ability to live our lives the way we choose. Well-adjusted solos are adept at making sure they have a healthy level of connection, and often maintain larger networks of high quality connections than those who are coupled up.
Covid-19 has hit the solo community hard because – unlike those who live with others – our social connections happen largely outside of our homes. We’ve had to radically rethink the way we connect. In some cases, our hopes and expectations haven’t matched what’s available to us, and this has led to loneliness. Technology has been a lifeline, as have initiatives like ‘bubbles’ in the UK which allow solo households to pair up with one other household. Socially distanced gatherings have been popular, and we have been some of the first to explore online meetups around shared interests.
Living without physical touch has been difficult. Where people living alone already experienced problems with their mental health, we have often seen these exacerbated.
For every person who has struggled, there have been an equal number who have embraced the unexpected solitude. With more time available, solos have told us that they’ve immersed themselves even more in the activities which bring them joy - in books, arts and crafts, writing, learning, and home and garden projects. There is something innately mindful about positive solo living, even under usual circumstances.
Without distractions, the little things take on greater significance - a cup of tea and a biscuit, hearing birdsong when you open the window, the joy of soft sheets. The last six months have been an opportunity to practice a deep form of mindfulness, and to be creative about drawing in more of these types of experiences.
Nature has also become a source of comfort – whether it’s the sea, woods, fields, walks in local parks, flowers in the garden, even just noticing the trees through the window of an apartment.
Solos, typically an environmentally conscious group, have found themselves spending more time alone in nature, and have felt an even deeper sense of appreciation for it.
Some solos have found themselves so comfortable in their solitude that they have contemplated never going back to their ‘normal’ lives!
Through all of these various experiences, there’s never been an objective measure of the ‘right’ amount of social contact to stave off loneliness – it’s different for each person. Being adaptable in the way we access social connection, and the expectations we have of those connections, have been central to surviving the pandemic as a solo.
Those living well alone during Covid-19 have also told us that establishing healthy routines through food and exercise, investing in self-care (whether that’s yoga, meditation, following religious practices, or even just enjoying a bubble bath), and cultivating a strong sense of gratitude (focusing on what we have rather than on the things we have lost), have also been key.
With these strategies, many solos have found it possible not just to survive but to actively thrive during Covid-19.