By: Tracy Lee
Special to the Sun
As the COVID-19 pandemic ravages the globe, I have shied away from writing about it. I am so tired of hearing about it, reading about it, living through it, etc.
My inbox is filled with articles addressing PPE and hunkering down in order to avoid contamination. Lately, I have seen a surge in articles and talking points on the mental health effects related to this pandemic. In particular, sheltering in place has become a major concern for many working in the medical field. Sheltering in place is just another name for isolation.
Isolation is not a social being’s friend, in fact, it can prove deadly. It is for this reason that we see ourselves battling the negative mental health consequences of this practice.
In research, Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Ph.D., a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University, finds that a lack of social connection heightens health risks as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or having alcohol use disorder.
Additionally, she states 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) Dr. Nicole Valtorta, Ph.D. Health Sciences, University of York, has linked loneliness to an increase in the risk of stroke and the development of coronary heart disease by 30%. Florida State University, College of Medicine, links loneliness to a 40% increase in the development of dementia. Wow, those are frightening statistics.
Loneliness can lead to long-term “Fight or Flight” stress.
This stress causes the immune system to function improperly. It increases inflammation and decreases the antiviral responses.
In short, loneliness increases one’s risk of virus infection and severe physical, emotional, and cognitive illnesses. That my friends, in this pandemic, is a great cause for concern.
Loneliness is an unpleasant emotion that is experienced when one is dissatisfied with their relationships or is isolated from rewarding emotional interaction. It can be felt even when surrounded by others due to low self-esteem. The causes of loneliness are varied and include social, mental, emotional, and environmental factors.
Reports show that 40% of adults feel that their relationships are not meaningful and that they feel isolated. More than 25% of adults live alone, 50+% of adults remain unmarried, and the number of children per household continues to decline.
Rates of volunteerism have declined and a decrease in religious affiliation suggests institutional connections that provide community connections are slipping away. These important connections provide crucial human fundamental well-being and social stimulation.
There are two categories of loneliness. The first is reactive loneliness. Reactive loneliness is experienced upon loss, such as the death of a loved one, or divorce.
The second category is chronic loneliness. Chronic loneliness is experienced when one does not have the emotional, mental, or financial resources to satisfy their social needs, or they lack the proper social circle of family, marriage partner, and children who provide these benefits. Although friends, significant others, and acquaintances provide a degree of social connection, they do not provide kinship.
Friendships, significant others, and acquaintances are potentially temporary social connections and are subject to disconnect. This temporary posture, or the ability to disconnect, found in connections outside of the family structure, can at times greatly impact feelings of loneliness and isolation.
For this reason, they are left out of the social list. This does not mean that they are unimportant; they are deeply important. Kinship, however, relates one individual to another beyond situational acquaintanceship.
Although 28% of adults report being dissatisfied with their family life, unlike friendship, kinship provides permanent bindings of emotional togetherness, loyalty, and support. The related effects of kinship are positive and remain active even during familial discontent and necessary physical separation.
Loneliness can occur even when people are surrounded by others. Human beings must connect emotionally to each other to stave off the adversities of loneliness. Loneliness derived by social isolation doubles the risk of early death among the African-American population. Among American whites, this risk increases to 84%.
(American Journal of Epidemiology, Vol.188, 2019)
One must identify and address the underlying cause of loneliness to nullify its negative impact.
The University of Chicago suggests that interventions focused inwardly, addressing the negative thoughts underlying loneliness, have a greater effect rather than interventions that focus on improving social skills, social support, or increased opportunities for social interaction.
At one time, society saw the effects of loneliness in the senior population more so than any other. The primary reason for this was the death of one’s spouse. Today, however, we see that loneliness is farther reaching. At present, loneliness negatively impacts the younger age groups in epidemic proportions.
The primary reasons for epidemic loneliness are the losses of human connection and relative kinship. These losses of basic human identity severely impact one’s ability to understand and reach one’s purpose (or direction) in life and a sense of belonging and bring on the ill effects of isolation and loneliness.
Isolation and loneliness are largely generated through electronic friendships and the materialization of pseudo kinship. They are compounded by the currently imposed distancing mandates aimed at keeping us virus-free.
One to one human relationships have been disrupted and restructured through the separation of families, as well as many other contributors including electronic socialization. Electronic socialization allows the absence of personal connection, accountability, and encourages deceit in many aspects of one’s profile and conversations.
It does not evoke loyalty, nor love, from one human being toward another. Unfortunately, electronic socialization can contribute to and en-courage narcissistic personalities. It can provide a venue for predatory manipulation.
Electronic socialization is realized through social media. Its by-product is chronic electronic isolation.
In today’s pandemic reality of COVID-19, physical social distancing coupled with the realized pandemic effects of electronic isolation have put mental health and medical physicians on high alert. This lack of realized human contact, com-pounds and proliferates the ill effects of isolation and loneliness. It brings them the forefront as an immediate concern in the future realization of physiological and psychological disease and higher mortality rates.
Please understand me when I say that I think that social media is a wonderful advent when used appropriately. Under the current distancing orders, it can potentially assist us in holding onto our emotional and mental health.
It can provide a venue for communication that would otherwise not exist. It gives grandparents the opportunity to communicate with grandchildren (most important in my life.) It allows friends to stay connected and allows many of us to work from home.
If used positively, social media can be therapeutic in the fight against social isolation.
Communication, however, is not the sole fix-all for loneliness and isolation. Evil, manipulative conversations and deceitful relationships developed over electronic communication can potentially drive individuals over the edge. And, just like the housing bubble, those who have tens of thousands of friends must at some point realize that those people are not true friends, they are just followers.
At some point, those who do not understand the truth of that will see their perceived popularity bubble pop. At that point, they will suffer enormous isolation and loneliness through the loss of their self-esteem.
My recommendation to the world is to make social media work for you rather than against you. I received correspondence this very week from a dear reader on the West Coast, addressing this exact subject. She states that she is a people person and that staying inside is a challenge for her. “Thank God for the internet and social media, it has saved my sanity!” Obviously, she has the confidence and understanding to utilize social media in a positive fashion.
It is a fact, that in order to protect ourselves, and those whom we love from a pandemic viral infection, we cannot gather together. When I was a young girl, my momma would tell me, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” It’s time to get tough, folks.
We must utilize every tool we have to fight the ravaging effects of loneliness, so where do we start?
Begin by swearing off of typing rants and thoughtless comments on your social media account.
Remember, quality over quantity is what counts. Rather than engaging with someone who you really don’t know and who really doesn’t care about you, pick up your device and call someone who cares.
Call your true friends and family members and have a voice to voice conversation. Better still, facetime them. Let your loved ones hear your voice, see your face, and LOL with you rather than read it on an LED screen.
Express your love and concern for each other.
Tell your friends and family that you miss them. Let them know that as soon as this distancing order is lifted you intend to see them eye to eye; that you intend to reach out and physically touch them in an expression of familial love and human connection.
We’ve got to get through this and we can do it with each other’s help and support. It’s the only way folks. Life is full of sorrow and loneliness. It is also full of love, joy, family, and friends.
Jump off of typewritten communications where friendship and caring can so easily be impersonated. Take a bold leap and join the one to one, eye to eye, voice to voice, and face to face exhilaration of interaction with those you love and who love you on a video application.
Do whatever you must to reopen, repair, and rediscover the gift of genuine human to human friendship, familial connections, and uplifting outreach. We’re in this together folks, let’s make the best of it.
Social media has its pros and cons, but video chats are a gift from heaven for this grandmother so far away from her dear grandchildren.
During this time of sheltering at home, let’s be kind to each other, use what we can to promote healthy communication, and enjoy the abundance of time on our hands to reconnect with those who may benefit from a phone or video call.
In the end, doing so will benefit the world by stamping out loneliness and isolation