Fighting Loneliness During the Pandemic

by Helen Robinson, LCSW, PLLC

As the days on social lockdown continue, more of us will begin to experience the impact of social isolation. Loneliness, according to a recent article in the Washington Post, can be as bad or worse for our physical wellbeing than smoking or obesity.  Loneliness is also a challenge to our emotional, mental, and spiritual health.

On one hand, more Americans are interacting through social media.  On the other hand, fewer Americans report having a trusted person with whom they can confide.  With the new rules about social distancing and the abrupt cessation of most of our daily social routines, what can we do?

Social Closening

The antidote to loneliness is social closening.  Here’s a new term to add to our vocabulary!  We can describe social closening as the act of closing gaps between us and others through intentional reaching out to others as persons.  Ironically, now that our routines are disrupted and we are stuck at home, we have more opportunity to pursue new behavior. Now that we are living in a time of social distancing, we can practice social closening in new and creative ways!

Social research suggests that relationships are as good for the immune system as exercise.  We also know that social connectedness has as big an impact on mortality as quitting smoking.  From a mental health perspective, we know that experiencing connection, meaning, and purpose are essential elements of wellbeing.     

So, what can we do while we are practicing safe  “social distancing”? Here is a short checklist of possibilities for you to consider:

  • Make a list of friends and family with whom you haven’t had contact in awhile and reach out.
  • Make a list of those in your neighborhood or church or community organization that you think might enjoy some contact.
  • Make more voice-to-voice phone calls; use face time or skype more often.
  • Spend more quiet prayer time in the good company of your God.  Use a favorite song or words from sacred text to help you.
  • Cook a few extra servings of a nutritious comfort meal, and do some front-porch deliveries to neighbors who aren’t cooking or shopping much.
  • Find a creative way to use your talents.  If you sew, join the ranks of others who are making extra face masks to help.
  • Reach out to the “coordinators” and “connectors” in the community you know; in all likelihood they are keeping up with emerging unmet needs of those in our community and will offer you new ideas for helping.
  • Make a list of those you know who are the helpers–those who are going the extra mile.  Reach out every day to one of these helpers to offer a personal thank-you!