Since the onset of the COVID-19 Pandemic over 12 months ago, there probably isn’t anything that we have become more acutely aware of as human beings, than our need for connection. Many of us have experienced what it feels like to be lonely. In fact it’s possible that quite a lot of us are experiencing real loneliness and disconnectedness for the first time ever. I know I have.
Actually, loneliness sounds fairly innocuous and is a word that can be thrown around pretty nonchalantly, with people saying something along the lines of… “What? You’re lonely? Big deal! We all get lonely! Get over it!” But it’s more than that! Sometimes loneliness makes itself known by sliding into and then planting itself like a ‘vague non-specific uneasiness’ in the pit of your stomach, much like a low-grade ‘exam-nauseousness‘. You all know that don’t you? You can be caught off guard and perhaps not even know that that’s what you’re feeling! But often what you’re feeling is loneliness – a feeling like you’re on the outside. Outside of life. Outside of society. Outside of everything! Everyone else is “in there” but you’re not, you’re outside. Separate from it all. Looking in.
In her article “The Health Consequences of Loneliness” Psychotherapist Amy Morin talks about loneliness as being a universal emotion which can be quite damaging if not taken seriously. It can cause serious health issues like heart problems, decreased memory, depression, brain changes, decreased memory and can even increase the risk of drug and alcohol abuse. The article “Alone in the crowd: The Structure and Spread of Loneliness in a Large Social Network” published by Prof. James Flower of the University of California-San Diego and Prof. Nicholas Christakis of Harvard Medical School, indicates that loneliness can be contagious and that if you’re spending a lot of time with someone who is lonely then you are 52% more likely to become lonely also.
Anyone of any age can become lonely but it’s particularly prevalent amongst the elderly. The 2019 article ‘Loneliness, Social Isolation, and their Discordance Among Older Adults’ published by ‘TILDA’ (The Irish Longitudinal Study on Aging) states that over one third of adults over the age of 50 experienced emotional loneliness at some point of their lives, that 7% felt lonely regularly, that people over the age of 75 are more likely to be lonely, people living in rural areas were less likely to feel lonely than their counterparts in urban areas and that older adults who lived alone were also more likely to feel loneliness. It’s not something that is confined to adults though. Children and teenagers who are shy or perhaps more inhibited may find it more difficult to connect with their peers and therefore feel lonely. Someone who has lost a loved one can feel lonely. Someone who is unemployed or has recently moved to live somewhere new can feel lonely too.
The important thing to remember is that we can all take steps to alleviate our loneliness. Developing strong social bonds can be the first step in achieving this. In fact, the good news is that having three to four strong relationships can be enough to ward off and reduce the negative health consequences of loneliness. Given that we are in such unprecedented times, perhaps we should all become a bit more mindful of both ourselves and others and ensure we are reaching out to each other and keeping loneliness at bay! Licensed Clinical Psychologist Bryan Bushman shares his thoughts on how to overcome loneliness while social distancing
What we need to remember is that loneliness is a universal feeling. We are social beings and we simply crave and need each other, whether we like it or not. Let’s remember this, be kind and compassionate to ourselves and not see it as a weakness.
The important thing to remember is that we can all take steps to alleviate our loneliness. Developing strong social bonds can be the first step in achieving this. In fact, the good news is that having three to four strong relationships can be enough to ward off and reduce the negative health consequences of loneliness. Given that we are in such unprecedented times, perhaps we should all become a bit more mindful of both ourselves and others and ensure we are reaching out to each other and keeping loneliness at bay!