One of the things that Covid19 has required us to do in order to beat it, is to stay in our homes. For individuals who live alone and for those couples, particularly those who are older and needing support from their spouse, this can be particularly challenging.
Perhaps one of the positive things that will come from this is that it will bring awareness to the issue of loneliness and isolation. It should, since we all will get older. Many of us will decide to age in place or will live in some form of living where we still function primarily on our own for much of each day.
There have been quite a few articles about this topic recently. In this article I will focus on one article from the American Psychological Association called The Risks of Social Isolation as the authors cite a number of other studies on the topic.
Here are some (there were many to choose from!) of the points and quotes from the authors on the importance of reducing loneliness and isolation. Here are a few of the important points from the article along with the links the authors provided to additional research:
• According to a 2018 national survey by Cigna, loneliness levels have reached an all-time high, with nearly half of 20,000 U.S. adults reporting they sometimes or always feel alone. Forty percent of survey participants also reported they sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful and that they feel isolated.
• According to a meta-analysis co-authored by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University, lack of social connection heightens health risks as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or having alcohol use disorder. She’s also found that loneliness and social isolation are twice as harmful to physical and mental health as obesity (Perspectives on Psychological Science, Vol. 10, No. 2, 2015).
• The most recent U.S. census data, for example, show that more than a quarter of the population lives alone—the highest rate ever recorded. In addition, more than half of the population is unmarried, and marriage rates and the number of children per household have declined since the previous census.
• One in five Americans who say they are not satisfied with the quality of life in their local communities feel frequent loneliness, roughly triple the 7 percent of Americans who are satisfied with the quality of life in their communities.
• Loneliness can occur when people are surrounded by others—on the subway, in a classroom, or even with their spouses and children, according to one study author, who adds that loneliness is not synonymous with chosen isolation or solitude. Rather, loneliness is defined by people’s levels of satisfaction with their connectedness, or their perceived social isolation.
• As demonstrated by a review of the effects of perceived social isolation across the life span, another study concluded, “Loneliness can wreak havoc on an individual’s physical, mental and cognitive health” (Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, Vol. 370, No. 1669, 2015). That research study also points to evidence linking perceived social isolation with adverse health consequences including depression, poor sleep quality, impaired executive function, accelerated cognitive decline, poor cardiovascular function and impaired immunity at every stage of life.
• Another study author says: “Lacking encouragement from family or friends, those who are lonely may slide into unhealthy habits. In addition, loneliness has been found to raise levels of stress, impede sleep and, in turn, harm the body. Loneliness can also augment depression or anxiety.”
• The authors of another study noted: “The practical interventions need to focus on helping retirees to maintain their sense of purpose and belonging by assisting them to connect to groups and communities that are meaningful to them.”
The research is overwhelming that finding ways to avoid and overcome loneliness and isolation is important. If we do not, it leads to a wide variety of potential health issues and reduces our lifespan. Also, as a result of the research, helping others avoid loneliness and isolation can affect their health positively. We can help ourselves and help others.
This will not be easy to change for those already feeling lonely and isolated. We need to look for ways to do this more effectively. For people not yet in this situation, planning for how you will continue to stay connected and maintaining a sense of purpose will be of utmost importance.
My challenge to readers is to identify people in your circle of acquaintances who are living alone or primarily alone due to Covid19 restrictions. This could be family (for sure parents, grandparents), former colleagues, business associates, vendors, board or committee members, people you knew through your kid’s activities (coaches, teachers, etc.)- you get the idea.
Select three or four from your list to contact. Call them on the phone, send them an email to check in, send them a handwritten card or letter, or set up a video call with them.
Reconnect and tell them you were thinking of them. Perhaps recount a funny memory of your relationship with them or why they meant something to you- why they are important.
As the research has shown, the value and importance of doing this, particularly in these trying times, can make a huge difference to these lonely and isolated people.
Imagine how you would feel if you were not able to connect with family, friends, or coworkers by Zoom, Facetime, Microsoft Teams, WebEx, GoTo Meeting, or any of the other methods we have available.
You might miss not being in the office and communicating with coworkers, but imagine not being able to see and talk with them at the same time. That is what people who live alone feel every day- and why they feel lonely and isolated.
By connecting with those living alone, you not only will make that person’s day brighter- you will make yourself feel better at the same time- you will brighten your own day by brightening someone else’s day.
Please share this message with others and encourage them to spread some encouragement to those who are feeling lonely and isolated.