You know – likely from keenly felt personal experience, as well as countless headlines and reports – that the pandemic has poured gasoline on a pre-existing issue of loneliness in the UK.
Data collected by Women's Health in 2020, after we polled 2,000 of you, our readers and listeners, found that 79% felt more lonely now than since before the novel coronavirus changed our collective lives (this rises to 87% for single people). Our findings chime with recent national figures. A YouGov survey conducted in November 2020 found 24% of adults in the UK had experienced feelings of loneliness in the 'previous two weeks'.
This time is uniquely hard. But there are, as always, small shimmers of hope to be found, somewhere. Here, three people with very different experiences of the pandemic – and who would have always imagined that they wouldn't do well, if forced to spend a lot of time solo – outline the small joys they’ve discovered in solitude.
‘Even though it hadn’t been a perfect relationship, I thought anything would be better than having all that time alone’
Angelica Malin, 30, Editor-in-Chief of About Time Magazine
Between December 2019 and early January 2020, my (now ex) partner of five years and I broke up. As such, when lockdown started in March I found myself in my flat alone for the first time. We didn’t live together officially, but we essentially were. It was a very difficult thing to go through even in a non-pandemic world, and I found myself thinking 'even though it hadn’t been a perfect relationship at the time, anything would be better than having all of that time on my own.'
But it was a real quick-fire way of getting through things because I had all this time to think and process and to actually heal. Being so confronted with an issue and having to heal without other people or distractions was actually kind of amazing.
Previously I would have wanted to spend every night staying on my best friend’s sofa and going for coffees with friends to talk about things endlessly. But when you remove all that, it forces a level of self-sufficiency that I don't think I would have ever been pushed to develop. I do feel like I came out last year a lot stronger because of it.
'I constantly needed to be around people’
Zara Saleem, 33, Founder of beauty brand Delhicious Body
Before the pandemic, I constantly needed to be around people. I was previously a primary school teacher, so I was always surrounded by 30 children and adults all day long. There were rarely moments of calm, and I got used to it.
When I left teaching and launched my own skincare brand, pre-pandemic, it still meant being very much around people - buyers, suppliers, and working in the warehouse with a small team.
I also come from a family of four siblings and growing up we were always together. I think I just didn’t really know how to be alone.
However since the pandemic, I’ve grown to absolutely love my solitude. I’ve now adapted to life alone and really enjoy my moments of quiet. At first, it all felt very strange and I still tried hard to fill my day with activities that would mean being outside around others.
But now I look forward to my peace in the day and actually feel I am at my most productive when I am surrounded by silence. Now I enjoy things like long walks and jogs solo, enjoying a meal by myself – and I’m also taking the opportunity to brush up on my Arabic.
‘I was dreading working from home after maternity leave’
I am a mum of two boys, currently aged four and 18 months. When I returned to work from maternity leave in May last year, right in the middle of the first lockdown, like a lot of people, I was required to work from home, rather than go into the office.
I was dreading it at first. It's hard returning from maternity leave after a year away anyway, you already feel very 'out of the loop'. In general, I never used to like being on my own, and one of the things I enjoyed most about being in an office was the social interaction with colleagues.
However, once I started working from home, I realised that it was the first time I had been in the house on my own since I had my eldest son. When nurseries reopened I was able to send my older son there in the morning and, very fortunately, on my working days my mum looks after the boys. She is my 'support bubble' /'childcare bubble'.
It was the first time I had peace and quiet during the day and I absolutely loved the calm feeling of being in my own home without the chaos of everyday life with kids. It was the first time since having my children that I felt like myself, instead of 'Mum', in my house.
I loved it so much that in September I decided to take the leap to set up two businesses, therefore working from home alone permanently, and I've never been happier. I thought I would be really lonely at home on my own. But I actually turned out to really enjoy it. Being on your own is a luxury you don't often get with little ones around.
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