Djanlissa Pringels, lower half of human figure lying on a bed, holding a phone to their waist.
Illustration: Djanlissa Pringels

Since Lockdown Ended, I’ve Been Lonelier than Ever

“There have been nights when I texted twenty people to hang out – and everyone had made plans already. Maybe I’m just not fun enough?”

This piece originally appeared on VICE Netherlands.

Ask VICE is a series where readers ask VICE to solve their problems, from dealing with unrequited love to handling annoying flatmates. Today we’re looking at why newly found freedoms have resurfaced old anxieties. 


Dear VICE,

Before the pandemic, I had a busy social life: there was always something to go to, and I had almost constant company. The thing is, regardless of how much of a social butterfly I seemed, I was prone to anxiety, always worried that perhaps people didn’t actually like me, that I’d end up with nothing to do on a Friday night, that plans were always being made without me.

That changed during lockdown. Because everyone was always at home I managed to settle down a bit. I came to realise that I’d put too much emphasis on what others thought about me to the detriment of my own mental well-being. When curfews were in place I’d crawl into bed at 10PM every Friday night with a good book, knowing the world around me would be doing the same. I’d wake up all refreshed and happy. It was a delight. 

Admittedly I also spent a lot of that time wanting to get my social life back on track. After restrictions were lifted, this proved to be harder than anticipated. Friends had moved away or found themselves in relationships, and one section of my immediate friendship circle had spent much of the previous year together which led me to feeling excluded. The invites dried up and the FOMO returned. 


There have been nights when I’ve texted twenty people to hang out – and they all had plans already. I don’t think that they purposefully excluded me, but those spontaneous nights really seem to be a thing of the past. It’s worrying. Why does everyone around me seem to be hanging out with a different person every day, and why do I seem incapable of doing the same? 




Hi F.,

The fact that you feel lonely, or sometimes as if you have no real friends, is nothing to be ashamed of. A Harvard study published earlier this year suggested that COVID has triggered a loneliness epidemic among young adults: 61 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 25 reported high levels of loneliness. So you’re definitely not alone in feeling lonely. 

That doesn’t make things any easier, of course. Friendships are a basic need for most people: a 2017 study showed that young people between 16 and 25 are better equipped to deal with stress if they’re surrounded by good friends. We live in a world in which die-hard friendships are constantly being romanticised in the media, which can make you feel even shittier if you’re not managing to build similar friendships in real life. 


Lidewy Hendriks, psychologist at MIND Korrelatie, a Dutch platform offering psychosocial support, said she regularly sees young people who feel as if their social life isn’t what they expected. “You describe having worked on yourself these past few months,” Hendriks said. “In the meantime, you’ve discovered some of your friendships were quite superficial. I wonder whether, after lockdown, you have started looking for people who fit the ‘new you’ better, or if you’ve reached out to your old friends again.” 

Instead of falling back into old patterns, Hendriks said you should appreciate your new understanding of yourself – for instance, that you also enjoy curling up with a good book instead of going out. But of course, if you are in the mood to socialise and have no one to hang out with, things can be really difficult. 

Hendriks’ advice is simple: don’t dwell on how other people are spending their time. Like museums? Take yourself to an exhibition. Into birdwatching? Go outside with binoculars for company. In doing so, you’ll likely encounter people with similar interests. So if you really want to go to that one party, you just have to do it — whether someone tags along or you’re rolling solo. “But it is important to find out why you want to be at that one party: are you genuinely looking forward to going, or will you feel excluded if you don’t?” Hendriks said. 


Reading your letter, Hendriks thought the social anxieties and insecurities you experienced before the pandemic might be worth exploring more in-depth with the help of a therapist. “I think you are so focused on the opinions of other people that it can get in the way of your own happiness,” said Hendriks. “The harder you look for friends, the more it will take over your life, the needier you’ll become – and you’ll forget to actually enjoy the moment when you’re having a good time.”

As clichéd as it sounds, people are attracted to confidence, so being too preoccupied with your social life ironically might be pushing your friends away. Hendriks said she’s been seeing more and more young people fostering feelings of inferiority in her practice. “A lot of young people I talk to compare themselves to others. They set the bar incredibly high,” she said. “I often see young people who struggle with feelings of ‘social loneliness’, where they are surrounded by people, but still feel lonely.” 

Hendriks thinks one of the main reasons why young people are experiencing more anxiety is social comparisons based upon social media. “I constantly need to put social media into perspective for my young patients," she said. “I definitely want to emphasise that how people present their lives on social media has little to do with what it means to be happy.” Hendriks advises people affected by these comparisons to take a step back and really think about whether social media is making them unhappy. “Spending less time on those apps will definitely help you,” she said. 

Another golden rule from Hendriks – however vague it sounds, end your day with a memory of something good that happened that day. It can be a simple, small thing, like reminding yourself of the nice walk you took at lunchtime, or thinking about how much you're enjoying the book, series or podcast you're binging. 

This is one of the basic ideas of the mindfulness movement. Hype aside, acknowledging what’s good in life can help you balance negative thoughts and build confidence one day at a time. “Examining how you can become a happier person and take better care of yourself is healthy,” Hendriks said. In short, you’re already on the right track.