You are far from alone in feeling alone. Here are some ideas to help.
adapted from an article By Julie Halpert·
Shelter-in-place orders have hit those who live alone particularly hard.
When the coronavirus hit it brought feelings of isolation into sharp focus, especially for those of us who live alone.
The moments that are most difficult are when I think about not knowing when I’ll be able to touch another human being again. I had a new granddaughter born at the end of March, and even though she is only 20 minutes away, it feels like she is on the other side of the world. As someone with no partner, I sometimes feel profoundly lonely. I wonder if I fell, how long would it take for someone to find me?
Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University who has studied loneliness extensively, says social connection is something we biologically crave. “We’re social beings and our bodies respond when we lack the proximity to others,” she said. So, the new normal prompted by Covid-19 “is a difficult kind of situation where we need to try to still remain socially connected while being physically distant,” she said.
Dr. Holt-Lunstad has found that loneliness can lead to serious consequences. One of her studies found that lacking any social connection may be comparable to smoking up to 15 cigarettes per day as a risk factor for mortality. Another study found that loneliness increases the risk of an earlier death by 26 percent. She also found that social isolation, loneliness and living alone exceed the risks of death associated with obesity, physical activity and air pollution.
Susan Pinker, a psychologist and author of “The Village Effect,” said that loneliness is a subjective feeling of being alone against your will. She said that you can be alone and not be lonely or you can be lonely even if you’re surrounded by people. It’s “a feeling of being excluded and of existential angst,” she said.
The situation is particularly serious, given that many Americans had been lonely even before the coronavirus pandemic hit.
According to a January 2020 survey of 10,000 Americans ages 18 and over conducted by Cigna, 61 percent of adults — three in five — reported they are lonely. That number is up seven percentage points from 2018. With Americans more physically isolated now because of coronavirus stay-at-home orders, the sense of loneliness is even greater, said Dr. Doug Nemecek, Cigna’s chief medical officer for behavioral health. Cigna’s study indicated that major factors corresponding with loneliness were a lack of social support and too few meaningful social interactions; it also found those who telecommute are more lonely than those who work in an office.
“Because of Covid-19, this is impacting many more of us. We are socially distanced. We can’t interact with friends or neighbors. We can’t visit elderly parents who are in nursing homes,” he said. “All of this has the potential of impacting how we feel from social connection and loneliness.”
The Cigna study indicated that 79 percent of those aged 18 to 22 considered themselves lonely. Among this group, heavy social media users were more likely to say they’re feeling lonely, Dr. Nemecek said, “so leveraging social media in the right way to make and maintain meaningful connections with someone else is very important.” For example, he said it’s likely to be more beneficial to have a video chat instead of just reading the news on social media or scrolling through Twitter posts.
There can be a greater risk of depression among those who have no social contact or social support, said Lisa Cox, a licensed clinical social worker and professor of social work and gerontology at Stockton University. But she says if those individuals exercise self-care, they can fare well. This includes participating in online support groups, yoga and stretching, keeping a gratitude journal, practicing mindfulness and immersing yourself in creative endeavors like drawing and listening to music.
Dr. Cox acknowledged that it can be difficult to exert the energy to try new things when you’re lonely, but said it’s worth giving it a try. Dr. Pinker said video chats are the next best thing to being there — anything that mimics the reciprocity of real interactions, or where you’re all “paying attention to the same thing at the same time.”
It’s an ideal time to pick up the phone and check in with friends and family with whom you’ve lost contact, she said. And just getting out and taking a walk around the block can help replicate the routine of your day as you once headed to work or a coffee shop, creating the opportunity to “see people in a casual way,” Dr. Pinker said. Both she and Dr. Cox say apps like Houseparty, which allows you to participate virtually in activities like games with friends or Netflix Party, where you can watch movies with friends who aren’t with you, can provide a means of social connection.
This time can be particularly challenging for older adults. A 2020 report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found that nearly half of adults ages 60 and older report feeling lonely. Lisa Marsh Ryerson, president of the AARP Foundation, cites AARP findings that over 42 million Americans — a third of the population age 45 and older — were lonely before coronavirus hit and says those numbers are on the rise in the current situation. She suggests that older adults prepare a “Friendventory,” a list that begins with an inner circle of friends and neighbors and expands to include former work colleagues and classmates. “It’s hard for people to take the first step, but it’s important to reach out,” she said.
She also suggests that everyone else call at least one older adult each day who may be at risk for loneliness to ask how they’re doing and listen to their response. Perhaps you can also help by offering to talk them through setting up virtual chats with their friends and family.
All these years later, it’s the absurdity of the normal routine that I remember most about the morning of 9/11. I was getting my kids ready for school when my sister-in-law called to tell me to turn on the television.
I was standing in our sun-speckled kitchen, cleaning up breakfast dishes when the planes struck the World Trade Center. At first I thought it was a movie clip, it couldn’t be real. The look of disbelief and bewilderment on my kid’s faces matched my own. Little did they realize the world would be forever changed. Like millions of Americans, I watched the towers collapse in real time. What happened after that was a collective nightmare.
A few years ago, I had to face the uncertainty of cancer. I live alone and the fear of being a burden on my children loomed large. I was lucky enough to be amongst those who are “cured” with surgery, but the fear of relapse is always in the back of my mind.
Here we are again — facing an entirely different, yet terrible threat that has already claimed more American lives than the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Government leaders and health care workers liken the COVID-19 pandemic to war. So far, my family has been spared. Still, I worry because testing continues to be elusive and everyday thousands of people appear to be spreading a virus they don’t even know they have. The stories of sickness, death, and people losing businesses and jobs, my kids being some of those people without employment, and worrying about which bills they must pay, make me weep. It hardly matters if we turn away from the news and our social media feeds. The silent screams of this pandemic are deafening.
Is it any wonder everyone’s feeling unmoored in the face of such massive fear and uncertainty? As someone who focuses on helping others cultivate resilience, I’m having to remind myself of what it means to grapple with the kind of looming unknowns that terrorist acts, cancer, and now, COVID-19 present. Don’t count on me to sugar coat these events. Life is full of random, unfair hardships. But I know from hard experience that we are often far more resilient than we realize.
What does it meant to be resilient? We recognize that we have choices. We accept the circumstances while doing all we can to push forward in our lives. We know ourselves — know what triggers us, calms, us, inspires us, motivates us. And we learn strategies to move us in the direction we want to go. The goal is never to get someplace quick. Resilience requires thoughtful intention. Resilient people understand that no matter how dire the situation, we are never truly stuck — ever. We allow ourselves to wrestle with fear, sadness, frustration and pain, and then we work to reimagine new possibilities. Forget about a lifetime of misery! Because we are resilient, we recognize where we are and where we want to be, and we allow ourselves to feel cautiously optimistic about the future.
Here are 7 ways to live with greater resilience in a COVID-19 world. See which ones work best for you.
1. Express yourself.
Write it out. Talk it out. Do what you must to unburden your fears. There’s a trove of research about how writing to better understand and learn from our emotions, strengthens our immune systems and minds.
2. Release stress through laughter.
Watch comedy reruns or Saturday Night Live. I try to look at a silly cartoon or graphic about the absurdity of our situation every day. I send silly jokes to my grandkids and know that their parents are laughing too. It’s not only okay to laugh, it’s healing. Take a look at The Mayo Clinic’s prescription for laughter here.
3. Stretch yourself.
This is probably not the time to tackle a huge, long-term goal. How about organizing the medicine cabinet or planting your favorite herbs in a pot?
4. Give your mind a break.
Wiggle your toes. Take a walk and smell the fragrant spring air. Listen to music. Meditate. Your fears won’t necessarily go away but your grip on them might.
5. Show empathy.
Worry and fear can keep us trapped in our own egos and mental silos. It’s not necessary to be heroic. How about making a simple phone call to a friend or sending a “thinking of you” letter? “Empathy is the game-changer. It is the trait that will ultimately save the world,” -Judith Orloff M.D.
6. Think of a time you triumphed over a challenge before.
It doesn’t matter how small. What matters is that you transitioned to a different place.
7. Have faith
Your presence in the universe matters. It’s just as astronomer Carl Sagan said, “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” Cautious optimism. Believe.
I’m rooting for all of us.
excerpts from "Cultivate your Resilience" by Becky Andrews, LCMHC
"The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern." – Elizabeth Kubler-Ross
Resilience: The ability to pull something from deep within to keep moving forward.
The ability to bounce back and thrive under adverse or challenging circumstances.
The ability to rebound from life’s difficulties and challenges in a healthy,
"Life isn’t about how fast you run or how high you climb,
but how well you bounce." – Tigger
You have permission to:
Identify your feelings.
We often have trouble identifying our feelings. Before you can articulate them to yourself or someone else, you need to be aware of what you are feeling. Check out the following website for an example of an emotion wheel.
Articulate your feelings.
There are many physical, social, cognitive, and emotional responses to the losses
and challenges we experience. Knowing and expressing our emotions in healthy
ways is an important step in our ability to cope, cultivate resilience and thrive.
Ask yourself regularly: How am I feeling today? Journal, draw, or share with a friend
the answer to this question. Feeling is Healing.
Practice Self-Compassion. Take time for Self-Care.
“Some people worry that self-compassion will close them off from other people
by making them selfish and self-centered. The reverse is actually the case – the
more open hearted we are with ourselves, the closer we feel toward the rest of life.
Self-compassion is the foundation for kindness toward others.
When we’re more accepting of our own, we become more accepting of others.
Full acceptance of ourselves, moment to moment makes it easier to adapt and
change in the direction we’d like to go.” – Christopher Germer, Self-Compassion
We need to nurture ourselves in five areas: Physical, Emotional, Cognitive, Social
and Spiritual. What nurtures you in each of these areas? This is your go-to list
Be Authentic (YOU) in your journey.
"Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we are supposed to be and embracing who we are. Choosing authenticity means cultivating the courage to be imperfect, to set boundaries, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable, exercising the compassion that comes from knowing that we are all made of strength and struggle – Mindfully practicing authenticity during our most soul-searching struggles is how we invite joy, grace and gratitude in our lives." – Brene Brown.
"Comparison is the thief of joy." – Theodore Roosevelt
Have healthy Reciprocal Relationships. Boundaries.
When we feel understood, validated and cared for it fuels our ability to be resilient. Healthy relationships – accept and give support when needed.
Who has been there for you? _______________________________________________
What are your Boundaries? Where do you need to give yourself permission to say no?
What do you want to say yes to? _____________________________________________
"Connection doesn’t exist without giving and receiving. We need to give, and we need to receive." – Brene Brown
Identify your strengths and utilize them.
Get to know yourself. What do you enjoy doing? What brings you joy? What are your strengths that give you energy?
www.viacharacter.org is a wonderful Positive Psychology Test that will help you understand your strengths.
Take time to utilize one of your top 5 strengths each day. When you are experiencing a challenging time – take a moment to pause and bring one of your strengths into cultivating your resilience for that situation.
What is a strength that has helped you in your life? ________________________________
Dig deep. Take small steps. Persist.
Break down what seems overwhelming into small tasks and acknowledge your small victories along the way. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon not a sprint.
A practice of gratitude can connect us to everything and everyone. It is helpful to have a daily gratitude journal. Take a moment to remember how many people have created or made possible what you experience each day. Write a letter of gratitude to someone who has made a difference in your life. Each day savor the feeling of gratitude.
"Develop an appreciation for the present moment. Seize every second of your life and savor it." – Wayne Dyer
Laugh and find joy in each day.
Laughter can be a powerful force and finding humor in our difficult moments (in time) can help us on our path to resilience. Take time to notice the small moments that bring you joy in each day.
"Every time you are able to find humor in a difficult situation you win." – Avinash Wandre
Be open. Be flexible. Be creative.
"We cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them." – Epitetus.
"We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguise as impossible situations." – Charles Swindoll.
Find meaning and purpose. Give Back. Serve Others.
In time, you can create meaning and purpose from your challenges. Spend time serving others.
"He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how." – Nietzche
"Strength, courage, and resiliency exist in everyone, but they start as a tiny spark and its only through facing challenges that they grow and blaze into the force that directs our lives." – Erik Weihenmayer