British Columbia

Living alone during the pandemic? Tips on how to make the best of the holidays

As the holiday season approaches, British Columbians who live by themselves have tips on how to make the best of the holiday season during a pandemic.

Living alone doesn't have to mean being lonely, say solo-dwellers

A man eats by himself at English Bay in Vancouver on Dec. 2. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

As a holiday season unlike any other approaches, British Columbians who have been living alone throughout the pandemic have some tips for how to make the best of what can be a lonely situation.

Amie Peacock is the founder of Beyond the Conversation, a Vancouver-based non-profit organization founded in 2016 to end social isolation. 

Peacock says some of the people she has encountered during the pandemic are in pain. 

"Imagine someone who does not have any family. Imagine going day-in and day-out … day and night, being alone and so absolutely lonely," Peacock said.

"This is something we have to address. The pain of loneliness is not the same as when you have a headache."

While things have been difficult throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for many single-person households, stricter measures have been extended to Jan. 8. This means those living alone are restricted to spending time with one or two people who live in a different household, such as a partner, relative, close friend, or co-parent.

But while many of these solo-dwellers might feel lonely, they're not alone. Based on the 2016 census by Statistics Canada, 14 per cent of the population aged 15 and over living in private households live by themselves. 

And many have coping strategies for making the most of what can be a difficult situation.

If you can, get outside

Ben From, 25, has only ever known the pandemic version of B.C. He moved to the province in February, just a few weeks before the COVID-19 measures began. 

From, who lives by himself in a 312-square-foot micro-apartment in Surrey, B.C., says getting outside has been an essential coping strategy — rain or shine.

Getting outside — rain or shine — has been a great coping strategy for Ben From, 25, who lives alone in Surrey, B.C. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"Definitely going for the longest walks possible. I find that in Surrey, the Green Timbers Park has been a huge benefit. Just getting out in nature has been a huge boon for me," he said. 

Use technology to stay connected

Ashok Puri, 76, has lived alone in Vancouver for the past 15 years. While normally he would spend the holiday season travelling, he says the pandemic has had a silver lining. 

"Life has become more interesting. [I'm] discovering myself. I'm enjoying my solitude," Puri says. 

Technology is a big way he connects to the outside world.

Ashok Puri, 76, usually goes travelling during the holiday season but the Vancouver resident is staying home this year due to the pandemic. Puri's advice? 'Pick up the phone. Call your old friends, your relatives. Keep busy.' (Submitted by Ashok Puri)

"Staying home, you pick up your phone and talk to your old buddies, relatives you've not talked [to] for years. That's a good way of cutting your boredom," Puri said. "I listen to music, [go on] Facebook ... Trump kept us entertained for most of the summer. I don't watch TV that much, but because of him and the American elections, I was busy following."

Peacock says technology has its barriers, but things like video calls, e-mails and virtual events can help foster a sense of community during an isolating time. 

"If this happened 20 years ago, I don't know what people would do, including myself. We would be in such a dire situation. We are in a situation in the 21st century that technology is such an amazing part of our existence."

Get a hobby

Staying busy is something many solo-dwellers encourage as a way of fighting off loneliness. For Barry Friese, a Burnaby-based artist who has lived alone for much of his adult life, painting and music have become like companions to him. 

"I'd like to say I've been an artist for 40 years. It's a very solitary endeavour," Friese, 55, said. 

"I've spent thousands of hours in a solitary manner learning those things, too. Just learn to treat it as though that was a companion and you're visiting an old friend every time you settle in to do your craft."

A busker plays his banjo at the Lonsdale Quay Market in North Vancouver in March. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Acknowledge what you are — and aren't — in control of

Stella Panagiotidis, who lives alone in Surrey, faced an additional challenge this year as her home was flooded. The 56-year-old has been living out of hotels as she waits for repairs.

"For me it was a real exercise in giving up that control, you know? And saying, 'You know what? I've just got to trust. I've just got to go with the flow.' So this very unfavourable situation and circumstance had turned into a somewhat interesting adventure."

Doreen Lambert, a military veteran who lives alone in Kelowna, suggests the following exercise she learned a few months ago.  

"Take your hand and trace it on a piece of paper. Take a pencil and trace. Inside your hand, write everything you can control, what you can actually control — what you say, what you do, how you feel, what you wear, what you eat. Everything on the outside, write the things you can't control.

"It just reminds you constantly you can't control what other people do and we can't control this ... but we just got to keep plugging along."

With files from The Early Edition, BC Today