In some ways, 2020 has become synonymous with loneliness. It’s an unprecedented lonely period; a time when physical and social interactions have altogether wilted. Normal no longer exists. Instead, people are learning to readjust their lifestyles to try and find a “new normal,” whatever that may be. An unexpected side effect of a “new normal”? Loneliness. A distinct lack of social connections and social isolation have contributed to “anyone feel[ing] lonely at anytime.” Is it possible, then, to find harmony and balance amidst this lonely time?
Due to the pandemic, lives have been uprooted. There has been a significant lack of social interaction and social connection. The people you trust, interact, and plan with are missing from your life. It’s no wonder the feeling of loneliness has become somewhat of a pandemic in and of itself.
Unsurprisingly, however, loneliness has been a public health problem long before the pandemic began. In a 2018 national survey by Cigna, they found loneliness in America to be a prevalent feeling. The study surveyed over 20,00 Americans and found that Generation Z (adults ages 18-22) and Millennials (adults ages 23-37) are experiencing more loneliness than older generations. According to the survey, Generation Z feels there is no one they can talk to. They feel alone, isolated and left out. Millennials surveyed also follow a similar pattern, however not to the same extent.
As if the stress of the pandemic wasn’t taking enough of a toll on people, loneliness can cause distress and uneasiness as well as affect one’s overall health and wellbeing. Loneliness is often connected to chronic health conditions, such as heart disease and metabolic disease. It’s also associated with depression, stress and anxiety.
Harmony and Balance
While reduced social interactions are leading to a growing problem of loneliness among young adults, it’s important to stay connected with yourself, help others, and find comfort in whatever ways you can.
Dr. Sue Varma, MD, psychiatrist at NYU Langone Health, wrote in an email that loneliness can impact your mental health. In order to try to cope, “you are really going to have to make an effort,” she emphasized. “The best way is to flip the script on loneliness — loneliness wants us to remain preoccupied with only our needs. Our sense of self, ability to relate to others and a purpose beyond yourself, community, family — all three together can help us.”
Dr. Varma’s states it’s important to talk to a mental health therapist, a local counselor, or health care provider if your mood has been persistently low. “There could be depression going on,” she added.
For AC Shilton, farmer and freelance journalist, her farm animals are helping her to find a bright spot during the pandemic. According to Shilton, her farm critters have been her “closest friends this year,” she wrote in an email.
Shilton finds it therapeutic to watch her herd animals interact with each other: “I take moments to simply enjoy my farm animals. Sometimes that’s just squatting on my heels for a few minutes and letting my cows sniff and lick me.”
There are two things she does regularly to stay connected with herself: she interacts with her farm animals and she sets a clear exercise goal in order to help with her mental health. “No matter what,” she said “[she’s] going for a run at 4:30pm.” For Shilton, running has been a “huge mental help.”
Another key item for Shilton? Getting enough sleep. No matter what, Shilton stated, she aims to go to bed at 9:30pm every night. Spending time with her farm animals, running, and getting enough rest are wonderful ways she’s maintaining harmony and balance “but they will not take the place of true therapy and help from a mental health professional.” She added, “I am very lucky to have access to a therapist I love.”
How To Cope
During these lonely times, finding harmony and balance in unexpected ways is key to helping one cope. Here are some ways to help find harmony and balance:
- Call, text, email and Zoom with your friends and family.
- Check-in on your neighbors. Give them a call to find out how they are doing.
- Send a hand-written note.
- Volunteer — Find an organization that resonates with you and call them to see what you can do to give back.
- Get creative — paint, sketch, draw, try new recipes, learn a language, refurnish a piece of furniture, decoupage, learn graphic design…
- Become active — go on a nature hike, walk, run, or cycle (while wearing a mask)
- Have an indoor karaoke party. Create a theme party and invite your friends (virtually, of course).
- Read, play chess, play a new boardgame.
- Take an online class.
- Become active in an online bootcamp, yoga, cycling, strength training or meditation classes.
- Write in your journal.
- Have fun organizing your planner. Keep different color pens and markers nearby, use stickers, set your goals, look forward.
How do you cope during this lonely time? Please share your thoughts below.
Summary in #30Words
With loneliness there’s disconnection and lack of meaningful social connections. Look for creative ways to try to combat a lonely feeling. Always ask for help if you’re suffering from loneliness.
If you truly feel you are experiencing a state of loneliness, please reach out for help. Talk with your health care professional. NAMI’s helpline number is: 800-950-NAMI (6264) or in a crisis, text “NAMI” to 741741 SAMHSA’s National Helpline – 1-800-662-HELP (4357) – If you need immediate help in an emergency—If you or a loved one is in immediate danger—call 911.