Loneliness and Covid-19: helping the lonely at high risk during Coronavirus

Hi Lovely,

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!

In the UK, there is actually a Campaign to End Loneliness. You can join the movement or follow the campaign on Facebook.

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…

Xx Becky

Covid-19 and Wired for Connection: 3 Simple Actions to Help With Depression, Anxiety and Loneliness

All five of us in my family have been inside of the house for over four weeks now. One of us had a virus resulting in severe pneumonia for three weeks during that time (whether or not it was the c-virus is a mystery).

As an introvert, I’ve always dreamed of the day when I could stay inside for weeks and not see a soul. That is not all that it is chocked up to be, my fellow introvert friends. The fact is that we are officially missing other humans. What about you? How is this crisis affecting you?

God wired each of us for connection. Human connection is a basic human need. Studies show that individuals who are part of a culture with a strong community live the longest. While it is necessary that we stay away from each other during this quarantine to save lives, I’m afraid that there will be another crisis on the horizon now: the crisis of anxiety and depression resulting from the loneliness of isolation.

For about a decade, I studied cults and unsafe religious groups, their isolation tactics and their effects on the human psyche. I have had the opportunity to speak with dozens of parents who have “lost” their children to cults. Being in isolation from our loved ones during a quarantine is hard enough. Imagine being cut off from your family and friends for good (a permanent cut off). It is a permanent mental and physical isolation.

For parents and others who have lost their children and loved ones to destructive cults, the Covid-19 isolation experience is a walk in the park. This is the world they have been living in due to the cruel, mandated shunning of the cults.

Isolation is a challenge and at times, it is painful…whether it’s from a malicious intent or not. Different forms of isolation (such as mandated shunning) happen a lot with unsafe religious groups and coercive-control groups.

Retired Licensed Psychologist Bonnie Zieman notes,

“Disconnection from family and friends is one of the worst things that can happen to a human…Of course, much of the research [from social scientists and psychologists] has been about how to cope after the literal loss or death of loved ones, not the loss of loved ones still alive, still living near you – who are mandated by an organization to cut you out of their life.” (Emphasis added)

Zieman, Bonnie.  2018. Published by Bonnie Zieman.  Shunned: A Survival Guide. p. xii

Zieman notes that this disconnection from others causes the unpleasant primal feeling that we do not belong (ibid). This makes us feel unsafe in the world (ibid). For the parents and grandparents I have known who have lost their kids and grandkids to cults, when their quarantine is over, their isolation from their loved ones will continue. For others, they will return to their connections.

I have grown concerned during these past few weeks for the mental health of isolated individuals. While we are all trying to solve the disease dilemma by doing our part in staying home, I have pondered the risks for a crisis of anxiety, depression and loneliness. For some of individuals, they are getting a small taste of what cult isolation feels like. How are you coping mentally with this crisis? Here are three ideas to help:

  • Get bright sun early in the morning. Bright, natural light resets melatonin levels and our body clocks, leading to a better mood, better sleep and more energy.
  • Focus. I don’t mean on the TV or news! Instead of filling our minds with bombarding negative news coverage all day long, let’s find a healthy project and get our minds to hyper-focus on it (when we have time to do so).
  • Connect. Connect with someone on the phone, virtually or from a distance. If you are quarantined with family, make some time to put down electronic devices, and connect with your family members. Spending time with our pets, time in nature and in prayer also helps ease the stress of loneliness.

Cheers to better human connections soon!