Cooped up for months thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic can take its toll, pushing people further from others and leaving many feeling downright lonely.
If the situation doesn’t feel temporary – meaning you’ve noticed that your social circle has shrunk in the past few years – it’s important to understand that chronic loneliness can have a traumatic and lasting impact on your body and mind.
“Monitoring, managing and supporting the social aspects of your life is an important way to maintain sound mental health,” said Dr. James O’Dea, vice president of the Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network. “During this time, it is even more important to utilize the supports you have in place or develop new ones.”
As social beings, humans need connections with others. Without it, research has shown that loneliness can affect our physical and emotional health.
- Boosting your stress level.
- Altering brain function.
- Increasing heart problems and stroke risk.
- Triggering depression and suicide.
- Causing poor decision-making.
- Decreasing memory and spurring the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Leading to antisocial behavior.
- Causing substance abuse.
Defined by experts as feeling lonely more than once a week, loneliness is more than just being alone. It’s a state of mind in which you feel alone even if you’re not, leaving you feeling empty, alone and even unwanted.
This mindset causes people to exercise less, eat foods that are bad for them, sleep poorly and experience daytime fatigue. It can also predispose us to premature aging by disrupting regulation of the body’s cellular processes. One study determined that loneliness can hasten death by 26 percent.
Loneliness seems to have increased in the United States since 1985, partly due to the increased reliance on the internet for communication. Social media is a misnomer, too, since the number of people with no close friends has tripled in that timeframe.
Experts note that having just a couple of close friends can make a huge difference in feelings of loneliness. Social interaction should be measured in quality, not quantity.
If the pandemic has merely worsened your social situation, and left you feeling more alone than ever, try stepping out of your comfort zone and addressing the loneliness.
- Share like interests. While it may seem challenging in the era of physical distancing, there are ways to connect with people who have the same interests – books, crafting, sports or community service – and still stay safe. It might take some creativity or the use of technology to enjoy each other virtually. If you venture around others, practice safe distancing and always wear a mask.
- Be positive. It’s understandable that lonely, isolated people expect rejection, but this is a time to summon a positive attitude and keep trying.
- Quality over quantity. If you can generate two connections that are meaningful with people who share your attitudes, interests and values, that’s better for you than dozens of acquaintances.
- Leverage social media. The medium can help you reconnect with childhood friends, college roommates or old flames, but it’s up to you to move things beyond the impersonal words on a screen. Even a video chat or a streaming yoga class, in this time of pandemic-driven isolation, is an improvement. Apps can bridge the gap, too. Netflix Party connects you with friends to watch the same movie together, while HouseParty lets you virtually join others for games and other activities.
If you’re struggling with mental health issues, the BHN has a 24/7 hotline with clinicians who can help. Call 833.621.0600.
The Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network is now scheduling virtual-health visits for mental health and addiction services. Call your provider for details. New patients can schedule a virtual visit by calling 1.888.984.2408.
For more information on the programs and services available through the Behavioral Health Network, click here.
Not feeling well? Call your healthcare provider for guidance and try to avoid going directly to an emergency department or urgent care center, as this could increase the chances of the disease spreading.
Need to see your doctor? New Patient? For more information about Hartford HealthCare virtual health visits, click here.
Click here to schedule a virtual visit with a Hartford HealthCare-GoHealth Urgent care provider.
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