The issue of loneliness is bigger and longer-lasting than just COVID-19.
Our dependence on technology was already isolating us from each other. Even before quarantine we were devolving into angry and divisive online feuds, often with people we didn’t know in person. Social media shares included videos of people doing unthinkable things, elevating a bad choice or a bad day into a seemingly national conversation coupled with judgment and ridicule.
Who is to blame? Politicians, large corporations, media, and at the individual level, ourselves. Ultimately, while we must access social media and other problem tools to navigate daily life, we don’t have to depend on them to be our primary source of interaction.
Recently Noreena Hurtz explored this idea in her book “The Lonely Century.”
Loneliness rates on the rise
International studies have shown that loneliness is a universal problem, and it is spreading into new age groups. More 15 year-olds than ever report feeling lonely, and 1 in 5 millennials reports having no friends at all.
Death rates in US nursing and assisted living homes dramatically spiked during COVID, but not just because of the deadly illness. Bloomberg reported that many nursing home patients saved from COVID later died of issues related to loneliness.
Clearly, then, loneliness is an issue that strikes people at every age. And interpersonal connection and relationships are essential parts of daily life.
Loneliness contributes to illness
The link between loneliness and illness is medically well established. Studies exist that demonstrate a correlation between loneliness and major causes of death or impaired living including. Lonely people are 32% more likely to have a stroke, 29% more likely to develop heart disease, and a stunning 64% more likely to develop dementia.
Hurtz asserts than loneliness costs Medicare $7B a year, using pre-pandemic data. This number has, of course, only grown worse as we were forced to endure more than a year of social isolation.
What you can do for you
Of course, nothing can be gained from blaming large, international geopolitical and economic forces for creating our isolation. That recognition might be helpful, but it is not a solution.
The solutions are as simple as they have always been, even in this complicated era.
You can reduce your sense of loneliness and isolation by taking one or more of the following steps:
- Schedule time to be with family members. Use that time to complete a specific task, rather than a formal get-together. Interacting informally with family allows space for conversations to open up. This can happen without the stress of major dinner table preparations.
- Schedule a mix of group and individual time with friends.
- Gift four friends a “two-hour ticket” where you offer your support to help them with a task or chore that is important for them. It could be painting, or running an errand. The caveat – the chore has to be something you are doing WITH them and not merely FOR them. You can ride in the car with them for an errand, but you won’t run the errand so they can stay home.
- Join a group of people who support a passion of yours. Poetry, politics, painting … whatever you enjoy doing, you will find friends among the people who enjoy doing the same things. Joining a group gives you chance to meet new people and expand your sense of self and accomplishment at the same time.
- You can even use social media tools to break this sense of isolation. Even regular Google meets with friends, including having them on beside you as you each work around the house gives you one of the benefits of friendship. This way spontaneous conversation can spark and troubles and concerns can be shared. And you can also feel the connection that happens when no one needs to break a silence while you work side by side.
Seek professional help
Of course, if your loneliness is interfering with your sleep, eating habits, or mental processing, you should talk to a therapist right away. This is a problem that can be solved, and perhaps extend your life by many years.
There are lots of options available to talk to therapists in your community or around the world. Many therapists, like Sakina Issa, are available to meet online so that scheduling is a snap. Then there is no commute, and you can be in the comfort of your own home. Just hit the red button to reach out for a no-obligation consult to see if counseling might be right for you.
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