How to Cope With Loneliness and Stress (Part 1)

Are you feeling isolated and lonely at home during this COVID-19 pandemic?  Are you struggling with worry and sadness?

Many of us occasionally fall into periods of melancholy.  For some, it may be winter weather that brings it on (for me, it's the relentless heat and glare of summer).  When ordinary habits and routines are disrupted, it's easy to feel a sense of futility.  That can make you (or your children) less productive, less cooperative, more grumpy, and more prone to unhealthy snacking, impulse buying, and the influence of advertising.

It is possible to shake off these moods without resorting to pharmaceuticals.  Every one of the following suggestions is backed up with medical and psychological research, and none of them cost any money to try.

Important note:  If feelings of sadness and depression persist over a long period or deepen to the point where they are impairing your life, talk to a doctor as soon as possible.  Occasional melancholy may be part of being human, but prolonged periods of depression indicate a serious condition that deserves proper treatment by a medical professional.

5 coping strategies

1.  Get adequate sleep.

Lack of sleep can seriously affect your mood.  Even one sleepless night can make you irritable and vulnerable to stress; chronic sleep deprivation can increase anxiety, depression, and metabolic disruption.

Set the stage for a better night's sleep by turning off all devices, including your phone, at least one hour before bedtime.  Multiple studies show that LED lights in screens disturb production of the sleep hormone melatonin.  In fact, darkness is essential to sleep, as it signals the brain that it is time to rest, so use blackout shades or a sleep mask if necessary.  

Transition to a great night's sleep with one or more of these activities:

  • Take a warm bath or shower.
  • Pray or meditate.
  • Write in a gratitude journal.
  • Do some gentle yoga or stretching.
  • Read a printed book.
  • Get pressing tasks off your mind by making a to-do list for tomorrow.
  • Listen to relaxing music.

2.  Don't sleep too much.

Too much sleep can leave you feeling lethargic.  When you finally do get up, you may feel that you've wasted the best part of the day, which depletes your energy and purposefulness even further.

In general, if you're sleeping over nine hours per night on a consistent basis, you may be getting too much sleep.  Underlying medical conditions aside, how can you insure that you hit the 7 to 9 hour recommended level?

  • Set a very loud alarm at the nine hour mark, and put it across the room so you can't just hit the snooze button.
  • Make a date for the following morning.  If you aren't going in to work, make sure you plan a morning activity:  walk the dog, cook breakfast rather than letting the kids fix cold cereal, pre-arrange a phone call with your mother or an elderly neighbor you want to check on.

3.  Go outside.

There are numerous mood-lifting benefits of being outside, and various studies have linked exposure to sunlight with increased production of serotonin and endorphins, brain chemicals that correlate with satisfaction, calmness, and high spirits.

Make an appointment with yourself to spend 30 minutes outside each day.  You can work in your garden, blow bubbles with your child on the patio or a balcony, or simply sit and read on a park bench.

4.  Raise your heart rate.

A little bit of strenuous exercise releases serotonin, and may also help people who are anxious become less so.

You don't have to be in great shape, and you don't necessarily need to visit the gym.  Just find something you enjoy doing with enough intensity that you sweat a bit and breathe heavily.  That might be a brisk walk, a quick bike ride, a session with your backyard trampoline or driveway basketball hoop, or a silly dance party with your kids.

5.  Talk to people.

Social isolation can make anyone feel disconnected and sad.  Spend time every day talking to people who are friendly, supportive, and positive.  Call a friend for a chat.  Invite your (healthy) sibling to come to your house for coffee or a meal.  When you do encounter strangers at the grocery store or gas station, greet them and wish them well.  Don't just ignore them because you're both "hidden" behind a mask.

Now is an especially good time to avoid those who are cruel, critical, and negative.  If your child is talking or texting with friends, determine that those connections are amiable and encouraging, not gossipy or bullying.

Look for "How to Cope With Loneliness and Stress (Part 2)" on Friday.

Updated March 2023


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