One of the feelings millions of people are experiencing during the current coronavirus pandemic is loneliness. In some combined efforts to stay safe and save lives, our usual ways of seeing family, friends or just familiar faces have been put on pause.
|| Nishica Choudhary
According to a survey* of UK adults which took place during lockdown (2 – 3 April), one in four (24%) said they had feelings of loneliness in the “previous two weeks”. When the same question was asked shortly before lockdown, just one in ten people (10%) said they had these feelings. In a matter of weeks, social distancing left millions more people in the UK feeling isolated. Since lockdown, young people are almost three times more likely to have experienced loneliness, with almost half (44%) feeling this way.
With many offices, gyms, churches and other places where people normally connect shut down, Living Room Conversations is one of several social platforms currently experiencing a surge of new interest. Since mid-March, more than 1,000 people have signed up for the discussions, and the website has had 62% more page views than it had at the same time last year. Joan Blades, one of the platform’s co-founders, attributes the traffic spike to social isolation.
The trouble is that loneliness is subjective (i.e., different from person to person), so there’s no way anyone can truly know what it looks like.In the Encyclopaedia of Mental Health (1998) researchers, Daniel Perlman and Letita Anne Peplau define loneliness as,
“The subjective psychological discomfort people experience when their network of social relationships is significantly deficient in either quality or quantity.”
In other words, loneliness occurs when a person’s social relationships don’t meet their interpersonal needs or desires. Instead, that loneliness is a feeling of discomfort that arises when a person subjectively feels unfulfilled by their social relationships.
Loneliness is dependent on what a person “needs and desires,” and this measure is personal and varies drastically from one individual to the next. Based on this definition, prototypical characterizations of “loneliness” seem misguided.
LONELINESS AFFECTING MENTAL HEALTH
Many of us feel lonely from time to time and these short-term feelings shouldn’t harm our mental health. However, the longer the pandemic goes on for, the more these feelings become long-term.
Long-term loneliness is associated with an increased risk of certain mental health problems, including depression, anxiety and increased stress. The impact of long-term loneliness on mental health can be very hard to manage.
Research links loneliness to severe health consequences — including chronic stress, poor sleep, heart trouble and even premature death, while studies associate meaningful social connections with physiological well-being and longevity. Even in pre-pandemic times, finding meaningful social connections could be challenging. In a 2019 survey of 2,000 American adults, nearly half said they found it difficult to make new friends.
Health Risks Associated with Loneliness
- Alcoholism and drug use
- Altered brain function
- Alzheimer’s disease progression
- Antisocial behaviour
- Cardiovascular disease and stroke
- Decreased memory and learning
- Depression and suicide
- Increased stress levels
- Poor decision-making
Close Friends Help Combat Loneliness
Researchers also suggest that loneliness is becoming more common in the United States. Since 1985, the number of people in the U.S. with no close friends has tripled.5 The rise of the internet and ironically, social media, are partially to blame.
Experts believe that it is not the quantity of social interaction that combats loneliness, but it’s the quality.
Having just three or four close friends is enough to ward off loneliness and reduce the negative health consequences associated with this state of mind.
Tips to Prevent and Overcome Loneliness
“Loneliness can be overcome.”
- Consider community service or another activity that you enjoy. These situations present great opportunities to meet people and cultivate new friendships and social interactions.
- Expect the best. Lonely people often expect rejection, so instead focus on positive thoughts and attitudes in your social relationships.
- Focus on developing quality relationships. Seek people who share similar attitudes, interests, and values with you.
- Recognize that loneliness is a sign that something needs to change.
- Understand the effects of loneliness on your life. There are physical and mental repercussions for loneliness.
With social distancing in full effect, people are craving connection now more than ever, which means that some may turn to dating apps merely to feel less lonely — and not to find love. Tinder recently reported that there were 3 billion swipes from users on March 29 alone — that’s more than on any single day in the history of the app. Not only that, but Tinder reports that daily conversations have been up an average of 20% around the world.
It’s also worth noting that there are so many other ways to cope with your loneliness aside from going on a swiping spree. According to Golden, the best way to reduce loneliness RN is to stay connected with loved ones. McCann suggests throwing a Zoom party with friends, hosting a virtual book club, or calling family members to see how they’re doing.