Loneliness In a Time Of Social Distancing
By: Sharon Burris-Brown, LICSW, NBC-HWC
Did you know that feeling chronically lonely is just as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or having a substance use disorder? On one hand, we are all closer than we have ever been through globalism and technology, but on the other, we are lonelier than ever before. And even though loneliness has always been a human condition, the institutions through which people have historically found community and purpose are breaking down.
To top it all, the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating loneliness and isolation within families and communities.
Extended families often do not live near each other.
Religious communities have and are continuing to decrease in numbers.
In the U.S., the percentage of individuals who live alone have increased, and the percentage of individuals who are married by the age of 45 have gone down.
In a 2018 Cigna survey, found that:
- Loneliness is generational. The Gen Z generation (up to 22) are the most likely to be lonely than any other generation. However, the Greatest generation are the least likely to be lonely.
- Loneliness is associated with poor lifestyle habits.
- Social Media use surprisingly does not have a clear causative effect on loneliness. However, those who are more reliant on social media have a higher incidence of anxiety and depression. What is not known, however, is whether those who are prone to mental illness are more likely to rely on social media or whether social media use can cause mental illness.
- People who live alone are more likely to be lonely than those who live with others unless the individual is a single parent living with kids. Single parents are most likely to be lonely.
Health Benefits of Connection
The definition of connection according to Webster is “a relation of personal intimacy”. When individuals are connected into a community, a purpose or to supportive family and friends, the health benefits are substantial.
Research has found that healthy connections is associated with:
- Having a hardier immune system
- Those with stronger connections have more resilience and lower rates of anxiety and depression
Deaths of despair are going up and the average lifespan in this country has decreased each year for the last several years. What we see in our therapy offices are individuals who struggle, for many reasons, to attach, connect and to reach out to others. We have become more and more silo’d and the number of those who say they have at least one person who they can talk to when they are struggling is tragically small.
What to Do?
Look into activities and passions to find a sense of purpose. Connection does not always need to be with specific people if you are connected to your life purpose. Connection of any sort can help individuals feel a sense of satisfaction and personal agency.
Help those in need. Part of finding purpose in your life is helping others who are in need.
Get involved in the community. Whether you are helping those in need or become an activist in a cause you feel passionate about, you may well find those people with whom you really connect, because they are interested in those areas in which you feel strongly.
Take a class. In the era of social distancing, online classes are what is out there right now. It is harder to meet your learning cohort online, but still possible.
Look in to virtual communities or create your own.
Write letters. Think about writing to family or friends you don’t get to see or talk to very often.
Set up a Skype or Facetlonelineime session with your elderly relatives. Think about having them tell you stories of their growing up experiences and record them. Collate their stories into a family history.
Get creative. Think about ideas to create a podcast. Do art. If you are a musician, play and stream your music online. The important thing here is not only to do something you love, but to find a way to share it with others—even virtually.
Ask for help. Many people have friends and family who would jump into help, but the step of asking for it is the hardest. Give your loved ones the gift of asking for their help when you really need it. You would do the same for them!
You can create community by being generous in sharing yourself, your help, your knowledge. The art of listening and just being there for others is a huge gift.
If you feel like you need the support of a mental health professional, remember that you’re not alone! Please contact us to request an appointment with a provider at Lyn-Lake Psychotherapy & Wellness.