Living Alone in the Time of Covid19


Overnight, our lives have changed. They have changed in ways we could not fathom, and are still struggling to understand. A “normal” life comprising work, socialising and entertainment, attending school and college, running errands and shopping—the very things that we take for granted as part of our daily routines—have suddenly disappeared as we find ourselves in the grip of some kind of dystopia.

Perhaps the most frightening thought is to realise we have no control over our lives at the moment. We have no recourse but to stay indoors, and the loss of freedom can be terrifying and triggering for some of us.

One of the toughest ways to experience a lockdown is to experience it alone. Families have each other, so for some there is the comforting presence of others. But for several people on their own, this time is particularly hard. Freedom of movement makes all the difference to those who live by themselves. On a regular basis, there is a job to go to daily, friends to meet with over the weekends, outings, and all the busyness of urban life that keeps you as distracted as you want.

But this sudden and indefinite lockdown has taken life as we know it and created something profoundly strange of it. How can we cope with this situation we find ourselves in, especially if we are alone?

The good news is that there are ways in which we can look after our mental health and ourselves. I spoke with Dr. Anjhula Mya Singh Bais, a trauma specialist, with some really empowering suggestions for people struggling alone through this lockdown: “Remembering how children act can be beneficial because they are compassionate to themselves and others, and are innovative. They can make a tent out of an old blanket, infuse stuffed toys with personalities, and so on.”

So, try giving yourself the freedom that comes so naturally to a child, and look at the same things differently. For instance, you can recycle things (there is no dearth of things you can use at home), making paper bags out of newspapers or painting an old milk bottle to use as a vase. But as Dr Bais says, be kind and compassionate to yourself, and self-care is fundamental, not just at the time of a crisis, but at all times.

It is entirely possible that you’re doing well on your own, and that is wonderful. But if the loneliness, anxiety, uncertainty, and fear are getting you down, here are some quick and easy to dos that can help shift your mood and get through this lockdown:

1. Make a routine for yourself

It is hard to get through a day by yourself when you see the empty hours stretching before you, and you aren’t even sure how you’re going to pass the next 10 minutes. Anxiety may be eating into you, or loneliness threatening to engulf you. Wait. This is where a timetable comes in to make the difference.

  • Choose roughly the same time to wake up and go to bed each night. Taking care of your sleep cycle at this time is crucial.
  • Make breakfast, and have fun with it. Choose your comfort beverage, and whatever you would like to eat or can access. Innovate with eggs or your paranthas. If you’re wondering why you should make a big deal of a nice breakfast – well, because it’s worth making a big deal out of! This is the start to your day, and starting it with a cheerful mood can be really helpful!
  • Get out of those pajamas! Have a shower and get into a nice outfit. If your mind says, “What for, it’s just me here by myself”’, the answer to that is that you matter, and wearing something nice will make you feel better. Do this for yourself, as silly as it may sound, and you’ll see the difference. Your actions affect your moods and your thoughts.
  • Now plan the rest of your day. If you are a student or a working person, you’ll probably be used to working from home. So, maintain, as far as possible, a regular workday at home.
  • Sometime mid-morning or near lunchtime, take a break and make lunch for yourself. Again, even a simple dal–chawal lunch can be made pleasurable: lay out a table mat, take out your good china, and enjoy the food you’ve made for yourself.
  • If you do not have enough academic or office work to occupy you, there is plenty of housework to keep you busy through the morning! So clean, scrub, wash, tidy up—do all the things you may not have time to pay attention to in the normal course as your domestic help does that for you. Domestic tasks can be oddly comforting. The mind is focused on the task at hand, the body is getting a workout (yes, you might be missing the gym or your yoga classes), and your house gets to sparkle!
  • In the evenings, make yourself a soothing cup of chai, nibble on some biscuits and relax. If you have a balcony, the evening is a lovely time to sit outside and listen to the birdsong. This is also a good time to listen to music and podcasts, watch TV, and talk to family and friends.
  • Get to bed at a decent hour to ensure you get at least 8 hours of sleep.
According to Dr Bais, “Instead of viewing isolation as punishment, reframing it as a respite from everything, and [using] the ability to go deep within, can help shift mood. Irrespective of a lockdown or not, anything that makes us uncomfortable is not the enemy; it's simply a warning gauge nudging one to explore what is holding them back. Ask yourself what is hard about being alone, [for] behind every feeling is a thought, [and] when we get to that, that is the gold mine, for thoughts are amenable to change. We can use this intermission of our daily routine and make it our inner mission.”

2. Learn something new

You know that recipe you’d wanted to try out, or that craft you wanted to learn, or the online classes you’d wanted to take but never had the time to? Well, now’s the time to do those things. The Internet makes learning anything possible, and depending on your interests, you will definitely find something to do.

3. Stay connected

It’s easy to slip into a depression at a time like this, and all you might want to do is to get into bed and sleep the day away. Instead, make regular calls to family, friends and colleagues, and make at least one or two calls like this daily. Seeing the face of a loved one and being able to talk to them will go a long way in alleviating loneliness and anxiety. And know that even if you are physically alone at the moment, you are not alone!

4. Get some exercise

A sluggish body will impact your mind. Do whatever your physical space, interest and health, permit: spot jogging/ yoga/ Pilates/ Zumba/ stretches, etc. And of course, the housework is also helping your body expend its energy.

5. Meditation and mindfulness

  • If you meditate regularly, keep going. Factor in a couple of sessions a day to meditate. Meditation will help you centre yourself and go a long way in helping you feel calm and relaxed. If you have never meditated before, there are all kinds of mediation apps that will guide you through meditations. Here is a link that will give you free access to 10 such apps:
  • Breathing exercises are simple, but very helpful when you’re feeling panicked or anxious. The simplest one (and you will find many on the Internet, so feel free to pick and choose) I can suggest is where you sit calmly, close your eyes, and simply watch your breath going in and out of your nostrils. Yes, that’s all you have to do. Don’t worry about how long you need to do this for; just do it. Breathe normally and evenly, keeping your awareness at your nostrils. After a while, you will see the shift in your mood.
6. Online therapy

If at this time, you feel you’d like some support, there are plenty of counsellors, therapists, and mental health organisations that are willing to do online sessions with you. At this time, many people are also willing to offer free sessions. Talking to a therapist would make a huge difference, so please do not hesitate to reach out to people. Check out this list for some resources.

7. Listen

Put on some music as you work, cook or clean. You could even try podcasts and audiobooks – you may find it soothing to listen to another voice. There are also free online videos available where people are talking about mental health and are talking about coping with mental health during the lockdown. ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) audio clips are also freely available – sounds of the forest, or rain falling, or the ocean, can be calming for the nerves.

8. Help others

There may be people you know who are also having a bad time, and this is the time to reach out to others to help them. In doing so, you will find you’ve helped yourself.

There is a lovely quote by Rilke that I read years ago, and have never forgotten. “Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”

It is possible that the loneliness which feels so frightening, is an opportunity to make friends with yourself. Maybe, as you meet it, you’ll find ways of getting through it, and discover freedom on the other side. You may discover strengths through this challenging time you didn’t know you had.

Each time a voice in your head tells you, “I can’t pass another two weeks of a lockdown; I can’t do this any longer,” - tell yourself you can, and you will. You are OK, and you will be OK. You only need to take it a day at a time; in fact, take it just an hour at a time, and be gentle with yourself.

Even if you’re all alone in your room/flat/house, remember that everyone in the world is together in this lockdown. We are, in a fundamental sense, all going through this together. We will get through this. And this too shall pass.

Rukmini Chawla Kumar is a Consulting Editor with Penguin India. She specialises in mind-body-spirit publishing, with a focus on mental health. She can be contacted at