The Impact of Loneliness in These Turbulent Times

hopeless elderly woman, feeling loneliness during the lockdown.

There have been many descriptions of how the pandemic is impacting people. It’s been causing stress, anxiety, fear, depression, frustration, anger, resentment, and other powerful, negative emotions. Over time having to experience one or more of these emotions can feel like it will never end because it has gone on for so many months. All this has created in many of us high levels of what is called allostatic load. 

According to Science Direct, allostatic load is “the cost of chronic exposure to elevated or fluctuating endocrine or neural responses resulting from chronic or repeated challenges that the individual experiences as stressful.” It is what happens to our minds and bodies when we are overloaded by chronic, toxic stress.   

Another result of all this chronic stress that comes from being so isolated for so long is the emotion of loneliness.

The Indian Journal of psychiatry posed the question: Loneliness: A Disease? They define loneliness in a variety of ways: “A state of solitude or being alone… but it is not necessarily about being alone; instead it is the perception of being alone and isolated that matters most.” They describe loneliness as, “a state of mind often connected with the inability to find meaning in one’s life. It includes feelings of disconnection and isolation. “

I think those of us who are experiencing profound loneliness these days realize it is a source of deep sadness that is connected to being restricted socially and therefore relationally. We miss being with friends and family, with being able to relax, laugh, share, debate, play, hug with those we hold most dear. It makes me think that there is a reason that we talk about who we hold most dear! Being with others feeds us emotionally and brings us joy. All of the restrictions can make us feel like we are in a state of emotional starvation. We are really hurting!

Sad african american lady feeling lonely, spending day in bed

In an article entitled:  How to Cope with Loneliness During the Coronavirus Pandemic  author Arlin Cuncric shares some information and suggestions that are perhaps even more relevant now then they were when this article was written back in March, the time most of this isolation was just beginning to hit us.

Here is a sobering fact she shares: A 2017 systematic review of 40 studies from 1950 to 2016 published in the journal Public Health found a significant association between social isolation and loneliness and poorer mental health outcomes as well as all-cause mortality.”

So what can we do to actively and intentionally confront our loneliness?

Here are her suggestions with some additional thoughts:

Sad depressed young man devastated feeling hurt suffering Depression Loneliness
  1. Keep to a schedule to help promote a feeling of predictability so days feel more normal despite all the changes.
  2. Stay informed without feeding your anxiety and fear by overdoing media consumption.
  3. Stay active, remembering that physical and mental health are directly connected.
  4. Do something meaningful, such as signing up for an online course, creating a family tree, becoming an online volunteer, posting supportive messages to your friends on Facebook.
  5. Connect with others, arrange for Zoom meetings with family and friends, invite people to an online book discussion, write old-fashioned notes and letters to friends, pick up the phone and say hello without necessarily having an agenda, go to a website called QuarantineChat that has been set up to help people connect.
  6. Find sources of comfort, such as taking a long hot bath, focus on and pamper your pets, cook healthy comfort food, try new recipes, watch favorite TV shows or read books including old favorites, have a cup of herbal tea, light scented candles, use essential oils, practice healthy sleep hygiene.
  7. Create something, expressing yourself through whatever means works for you such as painting, writing, dancing sewing, knitting, origami.
  8. Focus on a home project, perhaps by organizing a room or closet, redecorating an area, trying out new paint colors.
  9. Distract yourself by staying occupied with projects or taking on reading challenges, organize all your music, create a playlist of happy songs, take virtual tours of museums, play games like Sudoku, crossword puzzles, solitaire, online chess, make scrapbooks for your children.
  10. Make plans for the future: make a list of all the things you will do once we are no longer having to socially distance, order and plant spring bulbs, make a bucket list.
  11. Practice self-compassion, recognizing that these are indeed very difficult times and that you don’t need to chastise yourself for how you are feeling.

I am recalling an old commercial that begged the question of why someone should use a certain product that had the tagline, “Because I’m worth it.” We don’t have to stay stuck in loneliness if we commit to doing those things that allow us to feel less isolated and alone. We are all worth it!

Invitation for Reflection:

  1. To what extent has this pandemic caused you to experience loneliness?   
  2. What are some of the symptoms of your loneliness? Do you find yourself crying a lot, feeling restless, despairing, dissociated from others, trapped in your own home without your support network?
  3. What are some of the ways you can take charge of the loneliness so it doesn’t feel like it will last forever?

Diane Wagenhals, Director, Lakeside Global Network