Loneliness is a very real concern for people all around the globe as most of us are being asked to partake in extreme social distancing.
Did you know that Americans suffering from loneliness and isolation are 30% more at risk to suffer a heart attack or stroke over people who have strong support systems? It also causes a 25% increase in risk of cancer mortality, a 50% increase in risk for developing dementia, and a 59% increase in risk of functional decline.
With the rise of social media, studies have shown that up to 79% of Gen Z and 71% of Millennials reported feelings of loneliness. As the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 makes it’s trip around the world more and more of us are forced to stay at home and distance ourselves from our everyday life.
Of course, we cannot forget about the expense it takes on our mental health. Dozens of studies have found that there is a consistent relationship between social isolation and depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation.
Were you aware that we can actually experience social isolation as a physical state of emergency? Over thousands of years human evolution has caused us to feel the safest in a group setting. Loneliness causes stress and chronic stress leads to elevations of cortisol, a key stress hormone.
Increasing our sense of connection with the outside world is extremely important as the world tackles the COVID-19 disease. Countless experts have told us that the single most important thing we can do to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is to avoid face-to-face contact.
What Can I Do to Combat Loneliness?
It’s more important than ever right now to ensure we keep our social connections alive and healthy. A social recession of some type is almost inevitable at this point due to the need for extreme social distancing as the novel coronavirus leaves no part of our world untouched.
I’ve put together a list of a few things we can all do to help combat loneliness and avoid or minimize a social recession.
Video calling services such as Skype, Messenger, and FaceTime are a great way to stay connected to friends, family, and colleagues. Video calling provides an interactive experience for all parties. Seeing friends and family or even strangers happy and smiling helps to remind us that we are loved and not alone in this time of uncertainty.
If you can’t video call, then picking up the phone and making an actual phone call is an important way we can all help each other out. Texting and emailing do not provide us with much social engagement and doesn’t give you the same gratification as it does to see someone’s face or hear their voice. Let’s also not forget that many of our most vulnerable people are part of the elderly and/or disabled community and texting and emailing may not even be available to them. Pick up the phone and call grandma or grandpa! They will surely appreciate it and more than likely so will you!
Take a Walk
Social distancing does not mean isolating ourselves inside and not leaving the house. If our health allows for it, it’s vital that we all get outside and enjoy some fresh air! A walk in the park, a hike up a mountain, or even a stroll around the block will remind us that life is still thriving outside of our homes and it’s not the apocalypse.
Online Groups and Forums
Find a group online that you can contribute to. There are plenty of Facebook groups, forums, and other places online we can go to and interact with people online. Maybe you’re a car enthusiast? Try finding a forum online where you can talk about your passion for cars with others. Perhaps you find your purpose in the gym? Planet Fitness is offering free Facebook live videos that allow you to follow along while also interacting with other participants. I guarantee you that there is a group that you can interact with online that will have similar interests as you do.
Be Real and Authentic
Unfortunately, many people use social media to present a very tailored and often inauthentic version of themselves to the world. Studies have shown that when we share a more real version of ourselves it allows for more real connections and interactions to develop. Reach out with words of advice, support, and empathy and watch what the world gives back to you in return. The connections you build are likely to be more kind, deeper, and supportive.
Take an Online Course
Consider taking a course online that allows for interactive engagement. It doesn’t have to be expensive or even cost money at all if your financial situation doesn’t allow for it. A simple Google search for, “free online courses” is a great place to start. Even if the course isn’t interactive, keeping your mind focused will help to beat the feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Stop Scrolling and Comment!
Endless scrolling through social media can lead to an increase in feelings of loneliness and isolation. If you find yourself endlessly scrolling then make it a habit to stop once every 10 – 15 minutes and interact with someone’s post. Write a comment, ask a question, or even send a direct message.
Reach Out for Help
Not all of us are so lucky to have the support of family and/or friends to help get us by these tough times. There are plenty of crisis lines that you can reach out to if you are experiencing overwhelming feelings of loneliness and isolation.
In the USA you can always reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or contact them through online chat via their website.
In Canada you can always reach out to Crisis Services Canada at 1-833-456-4566, (1-866-277-3553 for Quebec residents). Alternatively, between the hours of 4pm to midnight ET you can send a text to 45645
Most countries offer some type of crisis support. If you are located in a different country and need access to these services please do a quick Google search for “crisis hotline” followed by your country’s name. Example: “crisis hotline Italy”
Don’t forget to reach out to friends and family, especially those who are self-isolating and live alone! People living alone are the most at risk for developing other health conditions due to loneliness and isolation.
What are you doing right now to combat loneliness during this novel coronavirus pandemic? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below! Kindness and compassion are so important as we all tackle this together.