Tips for Coping With Coronavirus If You Live Alone

Key Takeaways

  • Living alone during social isolation can be an emotional rollercoaster.
  • Prioritizing healthy relationships is essential to maintaining optimal emotional health.
  • Following a healthy diet and exercising regularly can help combat stress.
  • Learning a new skill or taking up a hobby is a great way to protect your mental health during COVID-19.

The coronavirus pandemic and subsequent stay-at-home orders have put a strain on all of us regardless of where we live or who we live with. While there are some perks to living alone during this time—like not feeling the emotional burden of looking after young children or circumventing the interpersonal intricacies of sharing tight quarters with someone else 24/7—isolating without others presents a unique set of challenges.

Those who live alone may need to be especially deliberate in planning their days during this time, holding themselves accountable in ways they maybe aren't used to as everyday routines are tossed to the wind.

Signs You May Be Struggling

  • An increase in potential problem behaviors such as drinking, smoking, drug use, overeating, online gambling, or excessive shopping
  • Being hyper-focused on tracking the news or social media, as indicated by sharp changes in mood depending upon what’s being viewed
  • Exhibiting poor sleeping patterns (Consistent poor sleep, or too much sleep, are both red flags.)
  • Not feeling motivated to return phone calls or messages from friends and family
  • Losing all sense of your routine, which might include not keeping up with basic hygiene (showers, brushing your teeth, washing your hair) or home tasks such as laundry, dishes, and clutter
  • Repetitive and uncontrollable negative thoughts
  • Feeling helpless or hopeless, including thoughts of suicide

Fortunately, there are some effective strategies you can employ that will foster a healthier mindset if you're sheltering by yourself.

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Nurture Your Existing Relationships

Perhaps the most effective way people living alone can maintain optimal emotional health—both in good times and especially in not-so-good times—is to nurture their friendships and family relationships. 

"More time at home offers more time to call, write, and video chat with loved ones. Consider a weekly video meeting with extended family from all around the country, and/or connect with friends for online happy hours, exercise classes, book groups, and all manner of creative activities,” advises Lorna Hecht, a therapist based in San Diego.

Lorna Hecht, MFT

Humans are social animals who absolutely depend on connection for emotional health. Plus, talking with others about your fears can help put them in perspective and help others to relieve their worries.

— Lorna Hecht, MFT

These virtual or online chats can be 1:1 or small groups, or they can be with a larger group of people. If you find yourself without many people to turn to, then Hecht recommends scheduling a telehealth session with a therapist who can guide and encourage you while also being a reliable person you can speak with as needed.

Now might also be a good time to consider developing new friendships, which you can do through online forums and even virtual volunteer opportunities in your community.

Take Care of Your Body

It can be so easy to melt away into a creamy batch of macaroni and cheese while curled into a ball on your couch—and in moderation that’s perfectly acceptable. But also strive to take care of your body by eating well, exercising often, and getting some daily sunshine. Not only can this improve your mental health by creating structure and distracting you from the noise of an overwhelming news cycle, but it pays in spades to your physical health.

Kathryn Smerling, PhD

Regarding exercise, this could be something as simple as taking a daily walk or as involved as working out with friends via FaceTime. To hold yourself accountable, keep track of your workouts, have an ‘accountability buddy,’ or even consider a friendly competition with friends.

— Kathryn Smerling, PhD

There are many free workouts available online (YouTube and Instagram are excellent resources for this), and many on-demand workout services are either reducing or waiving monthly membership fees during this time, as well. If you were a regular at a local gym, check in to see if it's offering on-demand options or online alternatives.

In terms of nourishing your body, try to make cooking a fun exercise; the act itself can relieve stress and distract you. If you hate the idea of cooking for one, either make enough to have leftovers or perhaps even drop off a portion at a neighbor’s home. Aim for naturally colorful meals and whole foods and limit the amount of sugar, salt, and simple carbohydrates you’re consuming on a daily basis. 

Dive Into a New Skill or Hobby

There’s some push back on the topic of taking up a new hobby during this time, and if you simply don’t have the mental capacity or the time to do so then that’s OK. Generally speaking, however, exploring new creative outlets or improving upon an existing skillset can be a boon to your mental health. 

Lorna Hecht, MFT

Engaging the intellect strengthens parts of the brain that humans need to stay mentally sharp and focused. Also, intellectual projects ward off boredom and energy spent on learning something new is energy not spent on negative thinking, feeling, and behavior.

— Lorna Hecht, MFT

This could be something like researching a new topic of interest, learning to play a new game, or diving into a craft like cross-stitch, single-line drawing, or gardening. You could also try reading a non-fiction book, writing poetry, learning calligraphy, baking bread, or memorizing the countries and capitals of the world.

Pencil some time into your day to dive into your chosen activity and even consider joining an online group that supports the hobby, too.

Monitor Your Overall Health

Though you are not likely to get sick from the novel coronavirus if you’re carefully self-isolating, it’s still important to monitor any potential symptoms you might have and relay them to friends or family.

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) outlines COVID-19 symptoms as a persistent dry cough, a fever, and shortness of breath. Other symptoms might include sore throat, headaches, body aches, and gastrointestinal issues. The CDC website provides a “self-check” questionnaire on the website that can guide you if you're uncertain about how serious your symptoms are.

It is rare to fall critically ill—and even rarer to die—from COVID-19 related complications. This is particularly true if you’re under 65 and without underlying medical conditions. However, being mindful of your symptoms is still important. If you feel like you’re experiencing symptoms, let a friend or family member know and consult a healthcare physician for the next steps forward.

What This Means For You

The COVID-19 threat has created many challenges, and if you live alone you may need to be particularly vigilant when planning your time in order to ensure your mental health.

Stay informed but limit your exposure to the 24-hour news cycle and social media. Take the initiative to reach out to friends and family daily, be deliberate about what you eat and how you’re moving, throw yourself into meaningful activities, and speak with a teletherapist if needed.

 The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

By Wendy Rose Gould
Wendy Rose Gould is a lifestyle reporter with over a decade of experience covering health and wellness topics.