How to Overcome Loneliness in a Locked Down World
Before COVID-19, America had a chronic loneliness problem, but the fight to limit the disease's spread is set to drastically increase the risk of loneliness. The pandemic has changed lives forever. We've all realized that we could eschew many things that used to be a big part of our lives before, but after being locked down in our homes, we can live without. We have become stronger and more resilient and have navigated through these unprecedented times one day at a time. In our journey, we've learned new things about ourselves, one of which is that we can live alone. Living alone is a feat in itself, which means that you are capable and independent. However, most of us tend to confuse that with loneliness. Just because you are alone does not constitute that you are lonely.
For a lot of us, solidarity has become our friend. Social events and interactions don't interest us anymore, and we have become afraid of putting ourselves out there. When a pandemic stranded this much of the world, carrier pigeons were in use, women couldn't vote, and blisters still killed people every now and again. America is now dealing with a hidden loneliness epidemic that could make us more susceptible to the pandemic.
The Loneliness Epidemic
On an episode of The Joe Rogan Experience, a podcast hosted by Joe Rogan himself and guest Johann Hari, they talk about the lack of community in America which is leading up to be the biggest cause of the loneliness epidemic. Rogan talks about our psychological needs, in conjunction with physical needs, deeming them both equally important. One of those psychological needs is bonding with other humans in a social setting. He mentions the current state of America, where fewer and fewer people are walking on paths that ensures that they'll be alone in the years to come. Some by choice, a lot of us by force.
Hari then replies by talking about how loneliness is an inherent signal to our body that something is wrong, releasing cortisol as a response to stress. So not even our bodies are used to being lonely. He then mentions how humans require a sense of belonging. He quotes Bosnian writer Aleksander Hemon who wrote, "Home is where somebody notices when you are no longer there." What he means is that we all need a home and a safe space that we go back to at the end of each day to recover parts of ourselves that the world unjustly keeps for itself. We go back to our families, friends, and loved ones for rejoicing in our successes and to nurse our wounds.
According to Matthew Lieberman, a pioneer in the field of social cognitive neuroscience and author of the book Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect when it came to brain development, evolution could have favored any number of traits, but it chose to favor our ability to socialize with others. Aristotle wrote 2,348 years ago that man is by nature a "social animal," however recent research has demonstrated that it is likely the other way around: being social is what made us human.
Joining the Social Pipeline
Socializing with other human beings is more pertinent than ever now. To avoid the transmission of the COVID-19 virus, people have been told or encouraged to remain away from each other for about two years. While that may be a factor, Steven Van Cohen, co-founder of LessLonely, points out that loneliness is more than just a lack of social interaction. We have the ability to be surrounded by a large number of individuals. We have the ability to communicate with people at all hours of the day and night. But that doesn't rule out the possibility of loneliness, he says. It's instead about how we interact with others. The distinction is in the connection and interaction. If we don't make time to connect, we often don't think about it or allocate it to an inconsequential issue on a long to-do list. And it's just not being done.
To help you recover from this epidemic, we have carefully curated steps that you can take which will help you dive back into the social pipeline. The steps focus on interacting with other people and working on yourself to get the most out of each of those interactions. 10 days of introspection is what you need to help you get back on the saddle and stop this cycle of solitude. Coupled with journaling prompts, it will allow you to fully immerse yourself in the issue at hand and take inventory of your feelings, emotions, and experiences.
Day 1: Acknowledge Your Loneliness
According to a study by workplace expert and speaker Ryan Jenkins, people were reluctant or embarrassed to talk about their loneliness. There was a sense of embarrassment about it. But, he claims, the epidemic has changed things, both by exacerbating the problem and encouraging people to talk about loneliness. If we are lonely, there must be something "wrong" with us, because otherwise, people would want to spend time with us. So, how can we accept the impact of loneliness without jeopardizing our self-esteem?
Question: How am I feeling? What has changed for me since the pandemic began?
We can begin to understand what is going on for us by objectively examining how we are feeling (emotionally and physically). It can assist us in determining where and how things have changed through time. Acknowledging loneliness might help you feel more in control of a situation. But, before we can take control of loneliness, we must first recognize its impact on our lives.
Day 2: Identify Your People
"Social isolation is very harmful to your health and contributes to poor health outcomes, especially for older adults," says Laurie Theeke, Ph.D., a nursing professor at West Virginia University. Your people are those you consider important to your health, happiness, and quality of life. Dr. Theeke suggests that they could be acquaintances, neighbors, or family. Your healthcare providers may also be crucial to include on this list, but keep in mind that they may be extremely busy right now. They may also want you to stay away from their offices as much as possible to limit your chances of getting sick. As a result, you should try to contact them by phone as much as possible and only when absolutely necessary.
Question: Who are my people? What can I do to keep in touch with them better?
There's no doubting that in-person connections are the greatest. However, suppose you're still waiting for younger family members to be vaccinated or for indoor group meetings to feel safe. In that case, a video connection is the next best thing. Keep in touch with friends and family via video calls. Even a 15-minute call with your friends or family can boost up your spirits for the entire day and make you feel connected.
Day 3: Make The Most of Your Interactions
Spending time with others will not always alleviate loneliness, as the quality of your connections is sometimes more important than the quantity. That's why a calm evening with your closest buddy might make you feel lonely in a huge group of casual acquaintances.
It's also important to consider how you spend time with others. When you just need some company, it's perfectly OK to watch a movie with a friend or share space while working or perusing social media. Share your feelings and personal experiences with others. Inquire and pay attention to what your loved ones have to say. Discuss important topics such as jobs, creative endeavors, and shared interests.
Question: How can I connect more personally with [person] I'm going to interact with?
It's difficult to avoid talking about current events totally, and you may want to keep up with what's going on in the globe. Even so, rather than focusing solely on the bad news, it can be beneficial to focus your conversations on topics that bring you both delight.
Day 4: Express Your Feelings
When emotions go unrecognized, they accumulate beneath the surface and intensify. However, speaking your sentiments aloud can often help them lose their power to distress you. Telling a loved one you're lonely can make it simpler to receive crucial emotional support, which can help you break free from loneliness's grasp.
Question: Why do I think I'm lonely? What is the reason behind me feeling this way?
Vicki Botnick, a therapist in Tarzana, California, notes that any emotion can become difficult to regulate, even elation, joy, or other emotions you might consider pleasant. Talking about painful emotions will also encourage your loved ones to discuss any sentiments they're having, allowing you to work together on coping skills. It might be tough to share painful or unwanted emotions with others, especially if you aren't used to doing so. Journaling allows you to discreetly express and go through your emotions so that you can eventually share them with others.
Day 5: Dispose of Loneliness At Work
We tend to spend so much time attempting to avoid distractions that we end up avoiding the very interactions that would help us feel less lonely. Sure, you need time to focus on your business. Still, you should also make time for individuals to contact you with questions and suggestions. Showing individuals that they are loved and needed is a huge part of overcoming loneliness.
Question: How much do I know about my coworkers? What can I do to get to know them better?
Taking time during a meeting to share what they did over the weekend or giving each person time to talk about something personal about which they're proud might be a better approach. "It creates this lowering of the professional armor," adds Van Cohen, "where we can start to really understand and see people from the personal side and get to know them more as who they are versus just how they show up at work." Connect with coworkers and employees regularly.
Day 6: Maintain A Routine
"When you're lonely, you may be kind of drifting, and you're not regular about things," Ruth Benca, M.D., explains. Maintain a sleep routine, especially in the winter, despite how tempting it may be to doze off after the sun sets. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) recommends that older persons get seven to nine hours of sleep each night. According to the Global Council on Brain Health, anything above or below that amount might harm your health; poor sleep patterns can create memory and cognitive problems.
Question: What are aspects of my day I look forward to? Are they good for me or bad for me?
It's critical that your day is scheduled and that you eat at regular intervals... and that you have things to look forward to during the day," Benca says, adding social interactions, even if it's simply a 15-minute phone chat with a loved one. "When people are working [part of their] lives, they must go to work during the day and complete several organized tasks. And when you get older and retire, that kind of fades away, and it can get worse in the winter when you don't get out as much."
Day 7: Don't Trust Social Media
On social media, everyone is having an amazing time, doing amazing things, and making a lot of money doing them. Of course, not everything is as it seems on an Instagram post, and the more you scroll down peeking into the lives of others, the lonelier you can get. According to Neha Chaudhary, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, social media is a double-edged sword in health.
"On the one side, it helps us stay connected to each other and prevent loneliness," Chaudhary explains, "which could be good for our health because studies have shown that social isolation and loneliness can have a bad influence on health." "On the other hand, social media is frequently linked to cyberbullying, social comparison, and other issues that can harm our health and well-being."
Question: How has social media impacted my life ever since I joined?
Chaudhary suggests figuring out what content makes you feel good and what makes you feel bad. "From there, you can make plans to reduce the things that make you unhappy," says she.
Day 8: Go Outside
A change of scenery can assist in diverting you and numbing the pain of loneliness. Perhaps you won't be able to work in your favorite cafe, have brunch with friends, or attend trivia night at your favorite brewery for a while. However, leaving the house can put you in contact with people, reminding you that you are not alone in the world. Spending time with nature can also help you cope with stress and improve your overall health.
Question: How does this [outdoor activity] impact my day? How can I do it more often?
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Make a trip to your favorite park. Try to recognize different birds; according to research, both birds and singing can positively impact one's well-being.
- Take a stroll around your local area. When your paths meet, explore streets you've never been to before and say hello to your neighbors.
- Plan a long-distance scavenger expedition with your friends.
- If at all feasible, patronize and support local companies.
Day 9: Get Creative
Many people find that creative endeavors such as art, music, and writing help them cope with isolation and loneliness. Artistic undertakings allow you to convey feelings without using (spoken) words, which can be quite beneficial when you cannot do so verbally. Creation can also leave you feeling fulfilled and satisfied, emotions that can help you overcome feelings of loneliness and despair.
Question: What activities help me express myself creatively?
Another significant advantage of creativity is achieving a state of flow. Flow, typically described as a feeling of being "in the zone," can occur whenever you challenge yourself with an activity you enjoy. Finding your flow is reaching a point where distracting feelings and emotions (such as loneliness) melt away, allowing you to completely concentrate on your art, music, or whatever else you're doing.
Day 10: Seek A Therapist
According to research conducted, loneliness and depression symptoms can reinforce one other, meaning that the more lonely you are, the sadder you are, and vice versa.
Simply meeting new people isn't always enough. It's very possible to feel lonely even when you're around them, which could indicate melancholy or social anxiety. If this is the case, joining psychotherapy to cope with feelings of loneliness may be a smart idea.
Question: Will seeking therapy help eradicate my loneliness in the long run?
Some types of therapy, particularly cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), can help you adjust your ideas and behaviors so that you not only feel less alone but also have more tools to prevent it. Whatever you do to combat loneliness, remember that you are not alone. There are numerous ways to feel more connected.
This kind of initiative can be especially beneficial to the more than 35 million Americans who live alone. If you follow these 10 days properly, you'll see a difference in your social interactions from before and after, and you'll learn to keep your loneliness in check. At the same time, you strive to become social again. For your journey, JournalOwl offers you a choice to keep a daily online journal just by signing up today!
JournalOwl is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, medication, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptoms or conditions. JournalOwl is not authorized to make recommendations about medication or serve as a substitute for professional advice. You should never disregard professional psychological or medical advice, or delay in seeking treatment, based on anything you read on JournalOwl’s website or platform.