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As we enter week four of lockdown, we know that a lack of contact with friends and family is taking its toll on everyone. But for those isolating alone, the lack of basic human interaction and touch can be particularly hard. Over on Instagram, we asked how many of the Tyla audience are locked down alone and found that over a third of you are. So we're starting a new editorial series, Locked Down Alone, bringing you first hand accounts from women who, for various reasons, are isolating without anyone else. They'll be sharing their stories, advice, practical tips on how they're coping and - we hope - making you feel a little less lonely. And remember whether you're in lockdown with friends, family or solo, we are all in this together.
Words by Francesca Specter
Single. Extrovert. Freelance. Living alone and, on top of that, quarantined behind my front door for seven days. On paper, most people would associate this situation with loneliness.
Thankfully, I'm well-practised in the art of self-isolation.
In November 2018, at the age of 27, I found myself newly single at a time when most of my close friends were living with their partners or getting engaged. Once my ex had moved out, I found myself living alone for the first time in my life.
As someone who thrived off social interaction, this level of solitude had never been on the agenda. In fact, it terrified me. Yet, rather than try to change my situation, I decided to face my fears instead. My New Year's resolution for 2019 was to learn to spend time alone, and actually enjoy it.
The government announced its strict new lockdown measures on the the same day I developed mild coronavirus symptoms, which meant I had to quarantine for a week. If 2019 had been my year of being alone, 2020 was when things really turned up a notch.
A year ago, my situation would have been unbearable. But now, it feels like a refresher course in 'alonement' (a word I coined to describe the joy of spending time alone), and putting all the solitude skills I've learnt into practice.
There have been some difficult moments. During a Zoom pub quiz last weekend, I opened my laptop to see 13 couples staring back at me, cosied up in the glow of their respective domestic spheres.
After seven days without seeing another human being (I was still in quarantine), this threw me off-kilter, and solitude temporarily turned into intense loneliness. Then there was the realisation that I, like many single people around the world, have entered into a period of prolonged celibacy. But then - if Orlando Bloom can do it...
I soon came to my senses. While I'm sure lots of people are happily self-isolating with romantic partners - and that's great for them - it's important, pandemic or otherwise, to avoid the trap of thinking couples are by default happier.
I've had two long-term relationships, and I know that when it's good, it's great - and when it's bad, it's very, very bad. Solitude is never more miserable than a bad relationship - and I'll venture a guess this is this case in confinement, too.
If you're single and want to settle down before a certain age, you might worry you're currently wasting time - but I can assure you, you're not. The better you know yourself, the better placed you are to develop healthy relationships with others.
So, rather than scrolling through dating apps, I've been using this as valuable time to get to know myself and my needs instead.
What's kept me feeling balanced is maintaining the same practices that last year transformed me from someone scared to spend an hour alone into a 'reformed extrovert' who values her alone time just as much as social interaction.
Here are my tips for how to make self-isolating alone bearable:
Make solo 'dates'
Plans don't have to involve other people. Before lockdown, my rolling solo breakfast date every Saturday morning at a local cafe was one of the highlights of my week, while I'd regularly plan cinema trips or exercise classes alone.
Solo plans have become ever more important now, to give me something to look forward to at a time when everything can feel a bit like Groundhog Day. Last weekend, I kept up my regular 'date' at home - ordering my usual (a cream cheese and smoked bagel with scrambled eggs and an oat milk latte) from Deliveroo.
Keep a diary
For most of us, this is a radical life shift. There are lots of emotions to deal with. And self-isolating alone gives you a chance to really get in touch with those feelings and process them. For these purposes, keeping a diary is cheap therapy, and helps you tackle any negative thought patterns before they drag you down.
Care for yourself
OK - so you don't have a boyfriend to look after you. But you have yourself - and simple acts of self care can go a long way in boosting your mood. Stop thinking 'Oh it's only me' and treat yourself to those small, everyday comforts. You might think you can do without that cup of tea in the morning, or those socks warmed up on the radiator, but my God, will you appreciate them when you have them.
The reason hanging out with friends or chatting with colleagues always makes us feel so good is that it releases endorphins. You know what else releases endorphins? Exercise. Yup. It might seem like the last thing you want to do, but I quickly identified exercising has proved the most surefire distinction between a good day and a bad one.
Look - no man is an island. While we can forgive the government for its slightly cold sounding terminology, we need to remember that social isolation is actually just physical isolation, and it's still important to balance alone time with virtual 'socialising'. Prioritise quality, meaningful connection rather than scattered back-and-forth WhatsApps. It's OK, and totally normal, to tell your friends and family you'd prefer a Zoom call to a text if you haven't seen a human face all day.
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