Approximately 35.7 million Americans live alone and during the coronavirus lockdown many of them have not had social contact with others for months, a situation that exacerbates our nation’s already critical epidemic of loneliness.
Loneliness isn’t just a social or emotional problem. Chronic loneliness has extensive association with health problems such as dementia, anxiety, self-harm, heart conditions and substance abuse, according to Time. People without social support have lower chances of recovery from illness. A report from health-insurer Cigna suggested that around 60% of American adults felt some degree of loneliness, even before the pandemic hit.
Dr. Carla Perissinotto, a geriatrician at the University of California, told Time that social isolation is an objective indicator of how much contact one has with other people while loneliness is “the subjective feeling of isolation.” She explained that being alone doesn’t necessarily mean you are lonely, nor does being with people mean you are not.
Since the lockdowns started, roughly one-third of American adults reported feeling lonelier than usual, according to an April survey by the social advice company SocialPro. According to Time, elderly adults are at the highest risk for loneliness.
Loneliness is everywhere, says Perissinotto. “This is a huge topic, but it’s been kind of kept on the sidelines,” she said. “Now everyone is forced to look at this in a different way. We can’t keep ignoring this.”
While technology like Zoom and video chats can provide some relief for loneliness, not everybody responds well to digital interactions. Research shows that for younger people, the endless scrolling through other people’s social media posts makes them feel even more left out. And for others social media serves as a painful reminder that their loved ones are far away.
Here some strategies that can help alleviate feelings of loneliness during the pandemic, according to Very Well Mind:
- Keep to a schedule. Even if you are isolated at home, try to fend off loneliness by including things that make the day feel as “normal” as possible.
- Stay active. Our physical and mental health are intertwined. So while you may be focused on how to manage your mental health and loneliness, practice YouTube video workouts or take walks around your neighborhood.
- Do something meaningful. A major contributor to feeling lonely is a loss of purpose. “We all feel like we want to belong and that our lives have importance,” according to Very Well Mind. Sign up for an online course, create a family tree or volunteer.
- Connect with others. One of the best things you can do to combat loneliness is to “reach out and touch someone” in non-traditional ways. Phones calls, cards and letters, and video chats—whatever makes you comfortable-- are some ways to connect without physical contact.
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