by Amy Weitzel
While many people during the COVID-19 pandemic have been consumed with the lack of alone time, struggles of dealing with demands of work and of homeschooling children, or getting along with people they are confined with, others have dealt with a very different challenge: being completely and utterly alone.
Studies show chronic loneliness can increase risk of early death by as much as 26%. It’s a major contributor to depression and alcoholism, and it can also increase the risk of suicide in young and old alike. Those who are lonely also report higher perceived levels of stress than non-lonely people. It can also impact quality of sleep.
We are wired for connection with others. And while we all feel loneliness during various times, it’s never been more prevalent than now:
My own loneliness has been prolific. An empty nester in a new town, I only just met my neighbors a few weeks ago while standing at an acceptable distance in the middle of the street. I didn’t realize the scope of my loneliness until I went to the doctor recently for my annual exam – I realized I hadn’t been touched by another human in nine weeks.
I noticed that negative situations were magnified by my loneliness: Stressful situations seemed heavier; grief bore down on me like Atlas carrying the world; and I wore anxiety and depression like shackles.
But these loneliness-fueled perceptions weren’t realistic. It took me a few weeks to mentally work my way through my misconceptions and get a new foundation built. I often joked – which is one of the ways I have found to cope – that I didn’t realize my lifestyle was actually called “quarantine.” Truth be told, quarantine wasn’t actually that far off as I traditionally work from home. However, the stress from the pandemic exacerbated my emotions and it took some time rationalize my thoughts.
Here are ways to help cope with your loneliness:
Self-care: Now, more than ever, is the time to take very good care of yourself. Create a list of ways you can pour into yourself when you are feeling depleted. It could be simple like taking a shower or bath or reading. Maybe you like to go for a hike or listening to music. Getting active and taking care of yourself is key to keeping a good perspective in life.
Meditate on gratitude: Loneliness can trick our minds into thinking negatively about our situations and people in our lives. Keeping a healthy perspective is key to maintaining strong mental health when we are alone. Take some time to write down 5-10 things you are thankful for every day. They may be big-ticket items like friends, family and our homes, or they can be small like the clouds in the sky or the flowers blooming.
Reach out: Reach out to your friends and family more than you have in the past and give yourself permission to be vulnerable. Let them know you are struggling with loneliness and that you need to lean on them. Loneliness may make us question how our friends feel about us, but balance your doubts with reminders of mutual history and shared experiences. Also understand they may have battles of their own and don’t take anything personally if they are unable to reciprocate at this time.
Have meaningful conversations: When you do reach out and connect with others, have meaningful conversations. Share your emotions and experiences with them. If you’re struggling, let them know. Listen if they are struggling. We may not be in the same boat, but we are all in the same storm. As Maya Angelou once said, “Every storm runs out of rain.” Until then, we get to support one another.
Amy Weitzel is the vice president of development for Triad EAP, an employee assistance program based in Grand Junction. She is also owner of Impact Development Solutions where she is a corporate trainer. She is also a mother of three grown children.