Coronavirus and loneliness

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By Balwant Sanghera

It has been close to two years since COVID-19 Coronavirus suddenly hit the world like a ton of bricks. Despite all of the relief efforts and financial support by governments at different levels, this pandemic has adversely impacted majority of people. The on-going waves of these variants have scared everyone. The Coronavirus has affected everyone not only socially, economically and physically but also mentally. Throughout all of this, the feelings of loneliness, especially for senior citizens and other vulnerable people in our society stand out. This has prompted a lot of research and studies on this subject especially since the Coronavirus crept upon us.

                                Loneliness leads to other mental health issues like depression, anxiety, heart disease and stroke etc. Strangely, our youth seems to have been equally affected by feeling of social isolation and loneliness. Being alone and loneliness are vastly different from each other. U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy has summed up the distinction very well in these in his book: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World. Dr. Murthy goes on to state that loneliness is a subjective feeling that the human connections we need in our life are greater than the human connections we have. He goes on to state:“You could be surrounded by just one or two people and feel perfectly content if you have strong relationship with them”.

                                On the other hand, even if you are in a large group of people but don’t have a strong connection with any of them you may feel lonely. Julianne Holt-Lunstead, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University, is a prominent researcher on loneliness. She states that younger people and those living alone and those facing financial insecurity or mental and physical health issues are at a high risk of feeling lonely and depressed. The COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the impact of loneliness on us more than ever before. Based on her research, Holt-Lunstead offers some practical suggestions to deal with loneliness. These include mindful meditation, expressing gratitude or giving thanks to others. Also, performing simple tasks of goodwill for ones neighbours, friends and others helps one make lasting connections.

                                It has been reported that performing small acts of kindness for others also goes a long way in tackling loneliness. Expressing gratitude and giving thanks to others is a great way to feel connected.  At the same time, these selfless small acts and tasks give one a lot of internal satisfaction and happiness. Such strategies are supported by Dr. Jeremy Noble, a Harvard physician and founding president of the UnLonely Project. Dr. Noble suggests that we should focus more on making authentic connections. As part of this process, we need to be upfront in sharing our feelings. Noble suggests that engaging in some sort of art form really brings out our true feelings and defines us.

                                It is very unfortunate that a lot of people suffer in silence rather than seeking out help. Rather than suffering in silence we need to reach out and ask for help. In every community there are a lot of resources and resource people well qualified to help. Quite a few of them offer their services in various languages. Thus language should not be a barrier to seeking out help. Spending some time in Nature, such as a park or wilderness is a great panacea for mental health issues and loneliness. Pursuing ones hobbies or passionsand learning new skillsare also some of the other ways to feel connected and overcome loneliness.

Balwant Sanghera

(Balwant Sanghera is a retired School Psychologist and Community Activist)