Emotional Support as a Necessity
What does the research say about loneliness?
Loneliness is something that doesn't have a whole lot of research yet as it is a fairly new aspect researchers are studying as the focus on mental health is becoming more important in healthcare. I was reading an article posted on the website for the Campaign to end loneliness (campaigntoendloneliness.org) and I found some statistics that may offer some insight. While these specific stats are focused on the older adult, it is still relevant to the effects of loneliness at any age.
"Research shows that loneliness and social isolation are harmful to our health: lacking social connections is a comparable risk factor for early death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and is worse for us than well-known risk factors such as obesity and physical inactivity. Loneliness increases the likelihood of mortality by 26%" (campaigntoendloneliness.org).
Loneliness isn't about BEING ALONE, it's about FEELING ALONE even when you're surrounded by people. It's a feeling of disconnect and a lack of meaningful relationships. NO ONE IS IMMUNE; children, adults, male, female, black, white, Asian, European, etc. It DOES NOT MATTER! You can have all the money in the world or none at all and still feel lonely. Sometimes the feelings of loneliness are situational and temporary, such as moving to a new area or experiencing a major loss (death, job, divorce, etc.). These temporary situations can usually be resolved with life changes like a new job or making new friends and attending social activities in your community. (https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-deal-with-loneliness)
But this isn't ALWAYS the case. Sometimes that pain doesn't fully go away, just like depression, it lingers in the background but can resurface at any time! So, WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU CAN'T SHAKE THAT FEELING?? Well, there are many resources available to help alleviate some of those feelings of loneliness, but they aren't always easy to access due to underlying concerns. Mental illness diagnoses and even some physical diagnoses can make it difficult to access.
Stigma can also be a barrier to accessing resources. If people don't feel supported by those closest to them, that can lead to more withdrawal, creating an even bigger cause for concern. Prolonged feelings of loneliness can lead to more severe issues such as suicidal ideation and self-harm. It only takes ONE PERSON to make a difference! Without proper support, unhealthy coping skills can emerge, leading to greater health problems, and, in some cases, serious long-term consequences or even death.
While that is extreme and terrifying, it is the sad truth! So many people have unhealthy coping skills and that can lead to poor choices and detrimental health problems like heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, etc.
Interaction during these times of isolation
We are in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, and social distancing is an almost mandatory need right now to lessen the spread of COVID19. This can be VERY challenging for someone who already feels the OVERWHELMING need to be social to try and alleviate symptoms of loneliness. But, if we were already isolated for whatever reason, and have a constant struggle with loneliness, how can we make an attempt to break free from that feeling now that we are stuck with even less options for social interaction? Well, the truth is, while in-person interactions are less possible right now, this social distancing has opened up "new" ways to interact with others. Not everyone has access to online resources like video chat, but, those who do can try to find ways to interact with humans on a virtual level.
Of course there will still be insecurities tied to talking to people over video chat, but it can help alleviate some of those feelings of loneliness. Meetup has been switching to virtual groups lately to still enable social interactions in their groups. I recently joined one called "Coffee with Humans" and they are making attempts at online video meetings to ensure socialization continues. There are also many online resources that can help one learn to cope with the "new normal."
This virus isn't going anywhere any time soon, so things are going to be extremely different for a long time coming. These are scary times we live in...We don't really know a whole lot about how this spreads, and there are people who aren't following the CDC recommendations for masks or social distancing, which complicates things more. I live in a state that is likely to become the next epicenter of the virus due to tourists and/or restaurants who aren't taking the precautions seriously enough. It is imperative to take precautions at this time to keep us all safe! Please follow CDC recommendations for dealing with COVID19 at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html
Also, this is an article from May 2020 in Times Magazine that discusses loneliness and how it is worsened by this worldwide pandemic. https://time.com/5833681/loneliness-covid-19/
Please also see this article from Psychology Today that addresses loneliness during the pandemic: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-pacific-heart/202005/coping-loneliness-and-isolation-during-covid-19
Links to resources for self-care and support are included below!
Self-care and support resources
It is EXTREMELY DIFFICULT to reach out for help sometimes because of stigma. Many people have the view that asking for help is a weakness, when in reality, asking for help is a STRENGTH. It shows that one is aware that he or she cannot do everything alone and sometimes needs another person to help achieve a goal. WE ARE STRONGER TOGETHER!
"Taking those first steps can be intimidating, but you can break the cycle. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to the problem of loneliness. Consider your own wants and needs. Think about activities that pique your interest or provide some connection to others. You don’t have to wait for someone else to strike up a conversation or a friendship. Take a chance on being first. If that doesn’t work out, try something or someone else. You’re worth the effort." (quoted from: https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-deal-with-loneliness#selfcare)
Here are some options for resources:
There are many more resources out there. They even have resources more specific to one's situation, like mental health conditions, chronic illness, teens, older adults, veterans, and even immigrants. While I'm not going to post all of those here, they can be found on the Healthline link I have referenced above.
I REALLY HOPE these resources can be beneficial to you or someone you know.
Also know there are resources available to help caregivers who are struggling as well: