Strategies for the Long Haul: Coping with Loneliness, “Touch Hunger” & Other Challenges

Posted by Michael Dale Kimmel in Columns 21 Mar 2020

We don’t know how long the pandemic will last, how long we’ll need to practice social distancing or how long we’re likely to be working from home, unable to see our friends and colleagues. So, in this column I offer you some mental health strategies “for the long haul”.

I read that “loneliness” is one of the most Googled subjects at this point in the pandemic. Well, duh! We can’t hang out with our friends and loved ones, can’t get a hug or sit down for dinner or a cocktail: of course we’re going to feel lonely. So, what can we do about it? Keep in touch with friends by a phone call or, even better, FaceTime or an equivalent. Seeing people is much better than just hearing their voice. You can see their face, body language and almost feel them there with you. A phone call is good too. Texting is okay, but it lacks the intimacy of FaceTime or a phone call. It’s better than nothing, but, in these lonely, isolating times, don’t settle for a text when you can have a loving, familiar face and/or a real voice on the line.

Lucky for us, we live in beautiful, temperate San Diego where we can easily be outside most days. Being cooped up in the house isn’t good for your body: fresh air, sunshine and seeing the big world all around you is great for your mental health…and you’re likely to see other people walking/jogging/bicycling too. This decreases feelings of depression and isolation: “See, there’s other people doing what I’m doing. We’ll all get through this together.” If your physical health isn’t good, can you manage a short walk around the block? If not, how about being outside for a few minutes? If you garden, that’s a terrific way to be outside: pull weeds (there’s a lot of them right now), move plants around, fertilize them…hell, you could even sing to them (as friends of mine do).

There is such a thing as “touch hunger” and during this time of social distancing it may be hard to get loving touch. If you live with a partner, please give each other more loving touch than usual. If you live alone, I encourage you to touch your body, run your fingers over it, massage it gently. This may sound weird, but it will make your body happy and boost your immune system. And what about masturbating? Isn’t that a form of touch? It is, but is it loving and nurturing or is it a rushed experience just to get off? You could experiment with masturbation as a form of pleasurable self-touching: try new ways to make yourself feel good. Slow down your pace. Try some toys (you can order some online, if you like). Use your “other” hand (it really makes a difference). Touch your entire body – not just your genitals – as you masturbate. I learned this from The Body Electric School: it’s called a Full Body Orgasm and it’s pretty great stuff.

One thing I’m doing to help myself cope is to think of this pandemic period as a kind of meditation retreat. I have been on 10-day silent retreats that were full of peace, meditation, rest, yoga, solitude and good food. I am trying to bring these same qualities into this time of social isolation.

Even if you can’t get into this kind of mindset, can you, as a friend of mine said, “I’m using this time to slow down and rest from how crazy my life has been for the past few years”. We now have time to rest and be more introspective; how will we use it? When it’s all over, will we have used it to recharge our mind/body/spirit or will we have spent the whole time worried and anxious? Yesterday, a client told me (yes, I’m seeing my clients via webcam sessions, keeping us all safe and healthy): “I’m using this time to take a good, hard look at my priorities in life…and some of them need to change.”

On the other hand, for many of us, keeping busy and active makes us feel better. If so, go for it! Do all those home projects you’ve been putting off. Clean out your closets/car/garage; redesign your garden; clear out your junk drawer, organize your home office, clean the cupboards under your sinks (those often-ignored spaces), cook those fabulous, multi-step meals you’ve been too busy to make; explore our beautiful city and go for long walks (with your dog, a friend or on your own). Keep yourself busy, if that’s what calms you.

We don’t know how long the pandemic will last. To be comfortable with all this uncertainty, I encourage you to find some strategies for the long haul. So, when it’s all over and we’re all looking back, you’ll feel good about how you spent your precious time.