“My significant other visited me on my birthday a few weeks ago. She baked me a quiche and we had a nice breakfast together before I left for work, with a glass sliding door between us and careful handling of any utensils passed from one side to the other. It was incredibly kind of her, and it alleviated my loneliness a little, and I was extremely grateful for the gesture.” – Survey respondent from California
As part of our ongoing Roots Of Loneliness Project, Women’s Health Interactive wanted to find out more about the ways that social distancing and shelter-in-place orders affected people’s feelings of loneliness during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before the pandemic, loneliness was on the rise and had already been labeled as its own “epidemic.”
But while one would imagine feelings of loneliness would be higher during the pandemic, we wanted to find out to what extent.
To achieve this, we conducted an anonymous and independent survey of 1,043 people to examine the specific ways that social distancing and shelter-in-place orders affected people’s feelings of loneliness during COVID-19.
What we found was extremely revelatory:
- Loneliness overall increased 181% during the pandemic compared to before it began
- While men were lonelier before the pandemic, women’s loneliness increased more than men’s did and was higher overall during the pandemic
- Millennials reported being more lonely before and during the pandemic, whereas Baby Boomers reported being the least; however, Baby Boomers and Generation X saw the biggest increase during the pandemic
- Millennials who live with children were almost as lonely during the pandemic as those who lived alone, and significantly more lonely than any other generation that also lived with children
- Remote contact (Zoom, FaceTime, etc.) alleviated loneliness the most in those belonging to the Baby Boomer generation
- Of the total number of respondents who took our survey, only 6.5% said that nothing about social distancing was hard for them
In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at all of the results from our survey comparing loneliness before and during COVID-19 broken down by everything from gender, to generation, to living arrangements.
We’ll also explore whether or not remote contact helped feelings of isolation, as well as what activities people reported missing the most, and the hardest part of sheltering-in-place as it relates to feelings of loneliness.
In addition, many of our survey respondents chose to anonymously share powerful, and sometimes heartbreaking, pieces of their own stories with us along the way which we’ve also included.
How Social Distancing And Shelter-In-Place During COVID-19 Affected Feelings Of Loneliness
[Infographic] How COVID-19 Affected Loneliness
For a quick yet comprehensive visual exploration of how COVID-19 affected feelings of loneliness before and during social distancing and shelter-in-place orders — broken down by gender, generation and other factors — we created an infographic that summarizes our findings.
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How Did Loneliness Affect People Before And During The COVID-19 Pandemic?
Loneliness Before And During COVID-19: Overall
- Overall, loneliness in the general population increased 181% as a result of social distancing and shelter-in-place orders
- Loneliness also increased during the pandemic even in those who did not feel lonely before the pandemic began.
- While this may seem like a no-brainer on the surface, the data solidifies the importance of social contact and its role in alleviating feelings of loneliness.
What People Said:
- “Whenever I go out, it feels like I’m in a horror movie, I need to protect myself, shop quick, and get home and wipe everything down. It’s just emotionally draining sometimes.”
- “I like being a hermit and isolating myself a lot. Now that I don’t have the freedom to see family and friends I care about, the isolation can feel like I’m struggling to breathe.”
- “I’ve always felt isolated from others to some extent, being an introvert. Now though, it is really starting to get unpleasant being alone almost always.”
- “I feel less lonely because more people are doing the same thing I am, and are experiencing what it is like to be isolated when I have been mostly isolated for longer than they have.”
- “I find it both depressing and unforgiving that we are in such a situation, but I can’t feel too bad for myself because most of the world is going through the same thing as me.”
- “Living in quarantine, I find that you have to keep a barrier between yourself and other people. I’ve always been one to not always engage with people, but I can see there’s a fear in many people’s eyes.”
- “I do feel like this new normal will be here to stay for a long time. Many people are going to need help — financially, psychologically, and otherwise. I’m afraid of the social effects this will have on the harder-hit areas.”
Loneliness Before And During COVID-19: By Generation
- Overall, loneliness in Millennials increased 154% as a result of social distancing and shelter-in-place orders.
- Millennials also experienced the greatest amounts of loneliness both before and during the pandemic by significant margins.
- Loneliness increased the most in Generation X (+222%) and Baby Boomers (+224%) as a result of social distancing and shelter-in-place orders, but were still lower overall than Millennials.
What People Said:
- “While not much has technically changed, and I was lonely before, it feels differently now. Although in a way it’s a relief to know I’m not the only one lonely.”
- “While I don’t mind being alone, *having* to be separated from the greater world is depressing.”
- “I feel stressed, anxious, and nervous all the time which makes me feel like I’m halfway to a minor to moderate panic attack almost every day, which is by far the worst part.”
- “I miss the little conversations with different people on a daily basis. I love my family and seeing them more, but we are running out of things to talk about as our days are pretty much the same each and every day with nothing to really add to them.”
Loneliness Before And During COVID-19 By Gender And Generation: Women
- Overall, loneliness in women increased 228% as a result of social distancing and shelter-in-place orders.
- While women were less lonely than men before the pandemic (18.4% women vs. 22.4% men), they reported feeling MORE lonely than men during the pandemic (60.6% women vs. 55% men).
- Millennial women — both before (22.2%) and during (69.3%) — continue to be lonelier than any other generation of women.
- Loneliness in Millennial women increased 213% while loneliness in women belonging to Generation X rose a staggering 340% during the pandemic.
- Baby Boomer women had it the “easiest” in comparison, with their loneliness increasing 180% — about the average of the overall population.
What People Said:
- “My husband of 42 years died in the fall and that has made this so much harder.”
- “Somehow I feel fine. Better actually. I like being home with my kids. I feel calm and peaceful. I’m almost worried there’s something wrong with me.”
- “I struggle with the ball of dread in my stomach especially knowing this will be months if not years of reduced contact with family and friends.”
- “Having no problem being socially distanced. No, it’s not sad. I kind of like being with me.”
Loneliness Before And During COVID-19 By Gender And Generation: Men
- Overall, loneliness in men increased 146% as a result of social distancing and shelter-in-place orders.
- While men were more lonely than women before the pandemic (22.4% men vs. 18.4% women), they reported feeling LESS lonely than women during the pandemic (55% men vs. 60.6% women).
- Millennial men — both before (25.3%) and during (56.5%) — continue to be lonelier than any other generation of men.
- Loneliness in Millennial men increased 123%, while loneliness in men belonging to Generation X increased 130%.
- While Baby Boomer men saw the largest increase in loneliness (+371%), their OVERALL levels of loneliness (9.9% before vs. 46.5% during) were still lower than all other gender/generation combinations during COVID-19.
What People Said:
- “It’s been frustrating not being able to live a normal life. I feel sad and depressed. I am turning into a different person. I cannot grow in this environment.”
- “It’s much more relaxing, almost like a vacation.”
- “Being that I already worked from home and am an introvert, I thought this would be easy but it’s been so, so hard. I really, really need a hug.”
- “I was already self-isolated before the pandemic, except for the times I took the bus to the grocery store. The pandemic has only served to make me look more normal.”
How Did Social Distancing Affect Feelings Of Loneliness For Those Living Alone Vs. Living With Others?
Loneliness Before And During COVID-19 In People Who Live Alone
- Overall, loneliness in those who live alone increased 134% as a result of social distancing and shelter-in-place orders during the pandemic.
- Generation X respondents that live alone struggled with loneliness more than any other generation before the pandemic.
- During the pandemic, Millennials who live alone were more lonely than any other generation who also live alone (71.9% vs. 67.7% Gen X vs. 57.8% Boomers) AND more lonely than any other living arrangement (i.e. those who live with others or children).
- While Baby Boomers who live alone saw the largest increase in loneliness (+164%) as a result of social distancing and shelter-in-place orders, their OVERALL levels of loneliness (57.8%) were still lower by a significant margin than all other generations during COVID-19.
What People Said:
- “I live alone, but I used to always see my niece and nephew, and it makes me sad that I cannot see them as much anymore.”
- “Living alone and isolated can have a toll on a person’s mental and physical well-being. My self-quarantine due to COVID-19 has made the situation worse for me.”
- “I am retired and live alone, so social distancing has not affected me very much.”
- “I began living alone at the start of this so it’s all been compounded. I also had trips planned to see friends and family who I had not seen in a while and a vacation as a means of rest and rejuvenation and it was all canceled.”
Loneliness Before And During COVID-19 In People Who Live With Others (No Children)
- Overall, loneliness in those who live with others (no children) increased 183% as a result of social distancing and shelter-in-place orders.
- Millennials living with others (no children) were the LEAST lonely overall during the pandemic.
- This was the ONLY category surveyed where Millennials were LESS lonely overall than other cohorts.
- Surprisingly, loneliness increased the most in Generation X (+300%) and Baby Boomer (+425%) respondents who live with others (no children) compared to Millennials (+113%).
What People Said:
- “I live with my wife who is a thoroughly excellent social distancing partner. In these difficult times, our schedule is almost completely empty except for work so we try to fit in daily exercise together, daily board games together, daily home-cooked dinner together, and at least one daily episode of a show we can enjoy together. If not for the risk of getting the disease, we would be fine.”
- “We have a large amount of physical space at our home and both my husband and I have maintained our income, so the effects of this pandemic have been not as difficult as for some. We feel fortunate.”
- “I’m chronically ill. Before this, I was living alone and struggling. Now I live with family so I am a lot less lonely and feel more connected since I can see my friends online rather than not at all. I feel like everyone is on my speed. It is strange, but welcomed.”
- “I have my family here with me and I have not felt lonely at all. I’m just thankful they are all okay!”
Loneliness Before And During COVID-19 In People Who Live With Children
- Loneliness in people who live with children increased 229% overall as a result of social distancing and shelter-in-place orders.
- That increase, however, was largely skewed by Millennials (+228%) and Generation X (+295%).
- Surprisingly, Millennials who live with children were almost as lonely during the pandemic (68.6%) as those who live alone (71.9%), and significantly higher than any other generation.
- Millennials who lived with children also felt lonelier at a rate more than double that of Baby Boomers during the pandemic.
- Baby Boomers who live with children had the “easiest” time dealing with their loneliness with an increase of only 114% during the pandemic, and lower overall loneliness by a significant margin than any other generation.
What People Said:
- “Being a mother, teacher, cook, entertainer, etc. 24-7 takes a toll.”
- “I’m a stay at home mom of 2, one of which is in school. It is a major toll to try and homeschool and parent a toddler at the same time while under quarantine.”
- “It is difficult for me to try and explain to my children that they cannot see friends and family or do things with them. We had to cancel a vacation, birthday party, and other family events because of this. It has been hard on everyone.”
- “I’m currently on maternity leave, so don’t miss the work aspect and actually benefit from having my partner home. However, new parenthood can be isolating at the best of times and I have really struggled with a lack of social life — I felt like I was just beginning to be able to socialise again and it all got locked down.”
How Did Remote Contact During COVID-19 Affect Feelings Of Loneliness?
- Overall, remote contact alleviated loneliness the most in those belonging to the Baby Boomer generation.
- Millennials reported that remote contact made their loneliness worse at a much higher rate than any other generation.
What People Said:
- “My group of friends has made an extra effort to call, text, and video chat often during this period. It helps us to support each other and feel less lonely.”
- “Social media anger and ranting plays a role in feeling alienated.”
- “I am actually contacting certain out of town people more often than before, but am talking to my in-town colleagues and friends much less.”
- “I am ok as long as I only see people via video chat now. If anyone stops by, which has happened once so far (keeping a social distance of course), it is harder than only seeing them via video chat. It is a reminder that we can’t hug or spend time like we normally would.”
What Was The Hardest Part About Social Distancing And Sheltering-In-Place During COVID-19?
- Of the total number of respondents who took part in our survey, only 6.5% said that nothing about social distancing was hard for them.
- By far, the inability to see friends and family was the hardest part about social distancing and shelter-in-place orders, according to nearly half of all survey respondents.
What People Said:
- “My dad and mother-in-law both have terminal cancer and not being able to spend time with them (they live out-of-state) is heartbreaking. It’s time we can’t get back.”
- “I really miss the human connection and my old routine.”
- “I think the lack of escape has been one of the hardest parts, I feel like I am trapped in a prison cell at times.”
- “Mainly just having to stress more about everything I try to do. For example, when I’m shopping for stuff or trying to get legal paperwork squared away, it causes way more stress than seems reasonable.”
- “I’m worried that my family members will pass from the virus and I won’t even be able to see them.”
- “My wife and I have not been able to see our two grown sons for about two months. That [has] probably been the worst thing about the isolation for us.”
- “I am a person that spends a lot of time with family and close friends. So not being able to be with them has been very hard.”
What Were The Activities People Missed Most During Social Distancing And Sheltering-In-Place During COVID-19?
- Nearly 60% of all survey respondents said that they missed being with friends and family who don’t live with them.
- Nearly half of survey respondents missed having the opportunity to dine out in restaurants.
What People Said:
- “I could have checked all of [these] boxes — it feels like a huge grief cycle that we all are in and at different places.”
- “This is the first time in my life that I have been bored.”
- “I have three grown children and ten grandchildren who live in close proximity to me. I have spent much of my time for years doing activities with them all. The isolation imposed by this virus is getting old, and I am very much looking forward to the time when we will have close contact again.”
- “Not being able to do the things I do to help me feel good about myself such as hair and nails has not helped with my anxiety and not knowing when I will be able to go back to my routine has raised my anxiety exponentially.”
- “I love movies more than anything and not being able to go to the theater and seeing so many movies get pushed back or sent to VOD (video on demand) makes me sadder than hell.”
- “I miss having things to look forward to the most.”
To examine the specific ways and to what extent shelter-in-place and social distancing affected people’s loneliness during the COVID-19 pandemic, Women’s Health Interactive independently, anonymously, and informally surveyed 1,043 people about their experiences between April 22, 2020, and May 14th, 2020.
- Of the total 1,043 survey respondents, 496 (47.6%) were male, 515 (49.4%) were female, 15 (1.4%) were non-binary/other, and 17 (1.6%) were undisclosed gender.
- Of these, 55 (5.3%) belonged to Generation Z (born between 1997-2012), 440 (42.2%) were Millennial (born between 1981-1996), 349 (33.5%) belonged to Generation X (born between 1965-1980), 185 (17.7%) were Baby Boomers (born between 1946-1964), and 14 (1.3%) belonged to the Silent Generation (born between 1928-1945).
- For the purpose of gathering quantifiable statistics on loneliness before the pandemic, only respondents who specifically stated “yes” when asked if they struggled with loneliness before the pandemic were measured as the baseline of loneliness prior to the pandemic.
- Survey responses were gathered online through public outreach that included: our website, our in-house email list and push notifications, social media posts (with paid boosts), non-paid influencer promotion, and paid survey respondents.
- Paid respondents comprised 38.3% of responses, all other channels comprised 61.7% of responses.
- This survey was not funded by, or written for, any outside entity or affiliate.
- Survey results were medically reviewed and audited for accuracy by Dr. Christie Hartman, Ph.D., Psychology, who sits on our medical review board.
- Complete survey statistics and audited data are available upon request.
While we are all living through this extraordinarily unique time together, we’re doing so from a “healthy” distance that seems to be having a deeply negative impact on our mental health and feelings of loneliness.
As social distancing mandates (if not shelter-in-place orders) remain in effect for much of the country for the foreseeable future, businesses are slowly opening up and life is making a slow pivot toward “normalcy” — at least to a degree.
No one knows what the future holds. If anything, the human ability to adapt, to find light in the darkness, and to persevere in the face of great strife is what will ultimately see us through this trying period.
“It just seems like the pandemic will never end,” one survey respondent observed.
“It’s an interesting connection to those who lived 100 years ago [during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1920], and it also emphasizes how important human contact actually is.”
Perhaps equally significant, it emphasizes the things that are truly most important to us in general.
After all, you can’t really miss something until it’s gone.
Although the minutiae of our individual narratives may differ in a thousand little ways, the broader themes that weave our stories together are strikingly similar to one another.
From the past to the present and beyond, we’re far more connected to one another than we realize.
How have shelter-in-place orders and social distancing affected your personal feelings of loneliness? Have you found it challenging to maintain connections with others through this extended period of social distancing?
Have you found ways to cope with your loneliness, and would you like to share those coping skills with others?
We really want to hear from you!
Tell us about your experience by clicking the “Discuss” link/button that appears at the end of this article to connect meaningfully with others in similar situations.