We’ve all been feeling lonely during this pandemic. Please know that you are not alone in your loneliness.
For some of us, especially if we live alone, we can feel the effects of loneliness even more. For others, we can even feel lonely in our relationships in our own homes!
We are all at risk for loneliness, now more than ever. Our lonely loved ones and lonely friends need us, now more than ever.
A multitude of lonely individuals are experiencing coronavirus and depression simultaneously. Especially, those who entered into the pandemic with previous trauma or mental illness.
I’ve been studying some of the grand challenges of modern social work.
What I’ve learned is that there are great risks to loneliness. We often think loneliness only affects the mind and emotions. Of course, the mind, body and emotions are all linked! The reactions of rejection pain (which can cause the pain of loneliness) and physical pain are rather similar to the brain.
It is interesting that when we take Tylenol, the main ingredient eases physical pain as well as emotional pain. A study of acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol) indicates that the ingredient can dull emotional pain (like feelings of sadness). It can also dull feelings of empathy and other more positive emotions, thus easing the highs and lows (I am not suggesting taking Tylenol for the relief of emotional pain).
Did you know that the United Nations has banned solitary confinement for periods which exceed 15 days? This is because confinement beyond this time frame is considered psychological torture. It is not that hard to see that ten months of lockdown causes loneliness. It doesn’t take a UN human rights activist to determine that experiencing prolonged solitary confinement is no joke! Solitary confinement is a torture tool used by prison guards to punish prisoners for negative behaviors (this is part of conditioning).
Four common signs of loneliness are…
- Feelings of fear (anxiety)
- Feelings of a crushed spirit (i.e., this could feel intense, like your dog just died)
- Feelings of intense fatigue (this could include lack of interest in activities once enjoyed)
- Feelings of abandonment (i.e., rejection) which often lead to a counterproductive desire to withdraw even more
These feelings can manifest in emotions and physical sensations alike.
Some longitudinal studies have indicated that painful childhood experiences contribute to loneliness later in life. Insecure/anxious attachment styles can contribute to loneliness.
Helping those with high risk for loneliness is crucial.
Even though we are all at risk, I have found that caregivers in particular experience a heightened risk of loneliness during this time. This could include caregivers for children, the disabled or the elderly.
For example, someone I know in another state is a full-time caregiver for an elderly person. This caregiver has little social support and no outside help. There is little or no time for self-care. There is nowhere to go during this lockdown to get a change of scenery because this caregiver cannot leave the elderly person.
Military families also experience intense loneliness, now more than ever. Being a full-time mother (or father) without a spouse at home, and without any outside help, is particularly exhausting. Not being able to take children to the park or to play with friends adds to the stressful dynamic for the whole family. This intense caregiving without social support contributes to burn-out and intense loneliness.
Children are of course at high risk for loneliness as they miss seeing their peers at school. Their parents are exhausted. Children feel the effects.
Did you know that countries which have a strong sense of social community (along with a tendency to engage in daily outdoor activities), like Finland and Switzerland, are the best places on earth to live?
They report the highest quality and length of life among their citizens. The loneliness factor in these countries is generally lower than what we see in other countries.
We must solve this loneliness epidemic caused by coronavirus and depression. We can’t afford to ignore the link between loneliness and the body.
Of course, under usual circumstances, spending time in community with others helps ease the burden of loneliness. With the current state of the world, that is not all that realistic.
Plan of Action
For now, it’s important that we embrace our voices concerning social issues that matter. For some of us, the issues are loneliness, coronavirus and depression.
The truth is that the action of helping ease the loneliness of others is a proven way to ease our own loneliness too! Is there an elderly person you can help? Perhaps you can drop a gift on their doorstep or spend some time with them outside. Have you considered bringing dinner to a military family or babysitting their children?
If you are a spouse, have you considered putting your phone down for a while to focus on your loved ones? Focus is a simple way to help our spouses and children with loneliness. They need our leadership, now more than ever!
Coronavirus is no joke for our bodies, but neither is loneliness. In a future article, I will discuss some solutions to loneliness when it comes to coronavirus and depression (please subscribe if you would like updates). In the meantime, there are some simple things one can do to feel less lonely (click here).
Remember, you are not alone in your loneliness. There is hope and a light at the end of the tunnel…