Loneliness in the time of Covid


Since the start of the Covid Crisis, we have been asked to follow social distancing guidelines, to self-isolate, to stay at home and, for some, to shield completely. Whilst we need to be socially responsible and stick to current guidelines, this new normal has had a huge impact leaving many of us feeling lonely.

We know social interaction is vital for our wellbeing. We are social animals and we need social contact to thrive. “No Man is an Island”, said John Donne back in the seventeenth century and it’s as true today as it was then. Limiting social interaction can seriously impact on our mood if we don't consciously work to maintain that connection by other means such as Zoom calls or messaging.

There are all kinds of small day-to-day interactions we don't normally think about which give us a sense of connection, such as buying a coffee or going to the gym. Some of us rely on these interactions for daily connection more than others and feel the impact of self-isolating much more than those who are able to maintain points of connection at home with their partner or family.

Loneliness is a growing epidemic in the UK with 2.4 million adults feeling lonely, according to data from the The Office for National Statistics. We now also know that loneliness is a growing health epidemic. The University of Chicago found loneliness to be twice as bad for people's health as obesity and almost as great a cause of death as poverty. A survey conducted by the American health insurer Cigna, found widespread loneliness with 54% of respondents saying they feel no one knows them well, and four in 10 reported they "lack companionship," their "relationships aren't meaningful" and they"are isolated from others.” The same study found that loneliness has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Loneliness isn’t simply about being on our own - some people are happy alone and we all enjoy a bit of solitude from time to time. It’s also not about the number of people you know, it’s about the strength of those connections. In fact, the Harvard Study of Adult Development, the longest longitudinal study of what makes a good life spanning 80 years, showed that the single most important factor in leading a healthy, happy life was the quality of our relationships.

So what are 5 things we can we do if we find ourselves swept up in the loneliness epidemic?

1) Recognize you are not alone in feeling lonely. Remember the stats, 2.4m people in the UK alone, and imagine being connected to all of the lonely people out there. Ask yourself what your loneliness is telling you. It can be a healthy emotion, revealing areas of our life where we yearn for connection.

2) Seek out other people like yourself. There are so many tools now for finding people with shared interests be it cycling, knitting or bog diving! If one group doesn’t work for you persistently try another.

3) Kindness goes a long way - we all have the power to offer generosity of spirit to all we come into contact with. It’s an attractive quality that pulls people people in like a magnet and the world is so in need of kindness right now.

4) Check your social media usage.The jury is still out on whether or not social media is behind the rising tide of loneliness and depression but it doesn't hurt to reevaluate the influence it has on your life. Are you using it to make meaningful connections? Are you spending too much time on it? Is it causing you to withdraw in unhelpful ways?

5) Take stock of connections you already have. Sometimes when we are feeling lonely, we can't see what's right in front of us. We may feel like the phone hasn’t rung in a while or people haven’t been liking our social media posts recently but when we remember that our friends have always been there for us in our hour of need or have helped us with a project that’s been important to us, we might feel less deprived than originally thought.