When we talk about loneliness as a state of mind, it’s more than just feeling socially or physically isolated from others. It involves feeling distressed and concerned about a perceived deficiency in the quantity, as well as the quality of our social relationships or social connections. Humans are social beings. We need intimacy.
Physical and psychological effects
The psychological impact of prolonged loneliness has been linked to mental health difficulties, such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, poor sleep quality and accelerated cognitive decline. There is also evidence to suggest that loneliness may cause negative physical consequences, including impaired immunity, inflammation, high blood pressure and heart disease, which can all contribute to a shortened life span.
Throughout 2020, Covid-19 safety measures including physical distancing, travel restrictions and lockdown, have resulted in an increasing number of people feeling lonelier than ever before. For example, in the UK, the Mental Health Foundation Longitudinal Study reported the following:
- Almost one quarter (24 per cent) of UK adults have felt loneliness because of the coronavirus
- More than four in 10 (44 per cent) of young people (aged 18-24 years) have felt loneliness
- Feelings of loneliness have more than doubled over the lockdown period
Add the upcoming festive season, which is usually spent with family and friends, to the pressure of a pandemic, and loneliness can become an even bigger problem. The issue of being unable to connect physically is especially prevalent in an expat community like those of the UAED, where many people long to be closer to their loved ones.
Tips to cope with physical distance
- Focus on the things you can control and make time for self-care activities, including reading, listening to music and exercise.
- Keep a journal to express your thoughts and emotions.
- Include mindfulness in your daily life. Use this time to learn breathing techniques and meditation.
- Explore different ways of keeping connected to family and friends by arranging telephone or video calls, sending photos and writing letters.
- Arrange fun and safe activities for yourself, like going to the beach or park.
- Create new holiday traditions that encourage you to focus on the present rather than looking back.
- Join an online group or class to meet new people and learn new skills.
- Create home-made gifts such as artwork, baking biscuits or writing a poem.
How can I support isolated relatives?
Keep in regular contact with friends, family or neighbours who are alone during this festive season through calls, messages or thoughtful gestures. Older relatives might not always be technologically savvy, so phoning or sending them a care package, home-made card or gift will mean a lot.
When to seek help
Be aware of the signs of depression as a result of continued loneliness and isolation. Talk to a health care professional or psychologist if you experience persistent feelings of sadness or irritability, struggle to enjoy things you used to enjoy, experience sleep problems, poor appetite, lack of motivation, difficulty concentrating, or severe fatigue.
At some point in time, anyone may feel lonely or isolated from loved ones. Check in with others, and also remember to reach out when you are feeling lonely.
Cabrière Jordaan is a counselling psychologist at the German Neuroscience Center.