Social distancing and stay-at-home orders are taking a toll on the human psyche and fueling the loneliness epidemic that has raged for several years. Let’s face it: It’s isolating inside for long stretches. And when we venture outside, we find others who look like aliens with face masks and gloves, darting away from each other. It’s downright creepy.
Before Coronavirus knocked us off our feet, one-fifth of Americans reported feeling lonely. More than one-third of Americans age 45 and older said they felt socially isolated. And 28 percent of older adults live home alone, more than ever before.
Too much isolation is bad news: Loneliness is as damaging as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, being obese, or having high blood pressure or diabetes. It can trigger inflammation, arthritis, Alzheimer’s and premature death. It also hampers the immune system, which is especially tough on seniors who are more vulnerable to the virus.
How can we bust isolation?
· Rekindle old friendships: Go on the Internet or pick up your phone to track down people from your past. Close friends help us cope with the ups and downs of life and this is a downer. Don’t be the lone wildebeest: In the African Savanna, wildebeests seek safety in a pack. The one who strays away from the network is in trouble when the lion arrives!
· Create virtual double dates: Connect with another couple. But don’t make small talk. Talk about real concerns. Getting together with others over a glass of wine or cup of tea triggers new ideas, prompts great discussions and brings everyone closer.
· Choose meaningful connections: Connect with friends who soothe and support you. Steer clear of toxic relationships who vex or annoy you. Aristotle divides friendship into three types: those of “utility” and those of “pleasure”— which both fade away. But the friendship “of the good,” the one that exists for its own sake, sticks with you!
· Connect to Community: Stream concerts, plays, church services. It’s the next best thing to being there.
· Chat up strangers: When you’re outside, interact with others nearby. Did you ever tell share secrets with your airplane seatmate? We frequently confide in people we barely know, seeking “cognitive empathy” with others who have similar experiences. These days, we’re all in the same boat. Just stay six feet away!
Remember, physical distance isn’t the same as social distance. People who move through tough times and trauma emerge with “post-traumatic growth,” more resilient and with a better sense of what really matters. They learn to appreciate life more and sense subtler vibrations. This is a stressful time. But with the right approach it can be transformational.
Judy Holland has been a journalist for more than 30 years, including in the Washington Bureau of Hearst Newspapers as national editor and Capitol Hill correspondent, where she prepared stories for 600 newspapers over The New York Times wire. Her stories have appeared in the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Houston Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, Tampa Tribune, and Washingtonian magazine. She was president of the Washington Press Club Foundation, a nonprofit celebrating female pioneers in journalism. She also was founder and editor-in-chief of Parentinsider.com, an online magazine for parents of teens, for which she wrote stories, edited columns, and co-produced videos. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband John Starr and their Great Dane, whom her three children, Lindsay, Maddie and Jack, left home to fill the empty nest.
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