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The Other Pandemic: Feelings of Isolation and Loneliness Are on the Rise

A white woman wearing a mask looks out of a building window

More than one year into the COVID-19 pandemic, feelings of isolation and loneliness are more prevalent than ever. Restrictions on everyday activities continue, and people worldwide are coping with many things, like: 

  • Still working from home, sometimes with our partners
  • Parenting young kids who must attend school virtually
  • Being unable to meet up with friends and family

New strains threaten to extend the pandemic even longer. Is it any wonder that so many people feel out of sorts?

Under this “new normal,” people are particularly vulnerable to feelings of loneliness and isolation. Without question, the effects of the pandemic have exacerbated these issues.

Effects of Social Isolation Especially Damaging During Pandemic

Numerous studies through the years have demonstrated strong links between social isolation and a variety of health issues. 

According to the World Health Organization, social isolation can be as damaging as smoking 15 cigarettes per day. 

Other statistics highlighting the detrimental impact of social isolation include:

  • People with low social relationships have a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke
  • Social isolation significantly increases the risk of premature death from all causes
  • People who are socially isolated have a 50% increased risk of developing dementia
  • People who feel lonely experience higher rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide.

Furthermore, pandemic-induced breakups are increasing across the globe. Between July and October, a leading law firm in the UK saw an increase of 122% in divorce inquiries over the same period last year. 

In the United States, 31% of couples have said that the pandemic has damaged their relationship. 

Overdose Deaths and Suicides on the Rise

Evidence of the isolating effects of the coronavirus pandemic is mounting. In the 12 months leading to May 2020, more than 81,000 Americans died from a drug overdose – the highest number on record for 12 months. Overdose deaths were already increasing, but they appear to be accelerating since the pandemic began. 

Suicide rates have also been on the rise, and experts fear that continued isolation could precipitate even more self-inflicted deaths.

Some statistics regarding drug overdoses in the age of COVID-19 include:

  • Overdose deaths from synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl, increased by 38.4% during the 12 months to June 2019 versus the 12 months to May 2020
  • 37 out of 38 U.S. jurisdictions with opioid data reported increases in opioid-related overdoses
  • 18 of 38 jurisdictions reported opioid overdose increases above 50%
  • 10 Western states reported a more than 98% increase in opioid overdose deaths

A mother wearing a yellow shirt and wearing a mask hold her elementary aged daughter also wearing a mask. They are both looking out of a window in their home

Recognizing the Effects of Isolation and Loneliness Can Be Tricky

People with chronic pain and other health problems are often used to being stuck at home alone much of the time. Since the onset of the pandemic, more people are in that situation than ever – and they are struggling to cope. As highlighted above, many folks are turning to substance use for relief.

If you find yourself tempted to cope with loneliness and isolation during the pandemic in an unhealthy manner, you’re not alone. However, there are other ways to deal with these unpleasant feelings. 

Keep the following tips in mind to deal with feelings of isolation and loneliness more healthily and effectively:

  1. Stick to a Schedule: Like many people, you may be stuck working from home or caring for homebound school-age children during the pandemic. Unable to leave every day, feelings of isolation increase dramatically. Sticking to a strict schedule can be an excellent way to keep yourself and your family plugging along while stuck at home.
  2. Set Aside Time to Socialize: Schedule specific times for catching up with friends, family, and loved ones. Consider holding weekly virtual meetings to keep in regular touch with the people you care about the most. Send letters and postcards to loved ones to mix things up a bit.
  3. Take Care of Yourself: More than ever, it’s crucial to ensure that you’re taking good care of yourself. That includes getting enough sleep, getting daily exercise, and following a healthy diet. Prioritizing your everyday well-being will make it easier to cope with the ongoing effects of the pandemic.
  4. Find Support: Find and participate in online support groups to connect with others experiencing the same feelings. That is a powerful way to remind yourself that you’re not alone in this, and you’ll benefit from learning about the strategies that others are using to cope with the situation.
  5. Start a New Hobby: Get into a new hobby to distract yourself from the monotony of lockdown life. Creative pursuits like writing and painting are beneficial because they can be done indoors during any weather. Knitting, scrapbooking, adult coloring books, and paint-by-number projects are all great options to consider.
  6. Keep a Journal: Maintaining a daily journal is a terrific way to get feelings of isolation and loneliness off your chest. It is also another way to bring some routine into your life. Whether you write long, detailed entries or just note how you feel each day, journaling can help you feel less alone during a lockdown.
  7. Get Outside Every Day: Include at least a little outdoor time in your daily schedule to keep cabin fever at bay. Whether the weather is nice or nasty, getting out there every day will help break up the struggle of pandemic life. Getting some sunshine also helps ward off seasonal affective disorder, increasing feelings of depression and anxiety.
  8. Do Comforting Things: During a global pandemic, it’s imperative to do things that comfort you. Spend time each day playing with pets, for example. Stock up on your favorite tea and set aside quiet time every day to enjoy it. Take long, regular soaks in the bath, and focus on cooking healthy, nourishing meals.
  9. Practice Mindfulness:  A great way to bring more relaxation into your life is by practicing mindfulness. Meditation is a great way to do this, and there are lots of apps to help you get started. Yoga is another excellent way to engage in mindfulness, and you will find lots of free yoga videos on YouTube to get going.
  10. Get Therapy: If you’re not already speaking to a therapist regularly, now is an excellent time to start. That’s especially true if your feelings of loneliness and isolation drive you to engage in unhealthy habits like using drugs. By now, most therapists are equipped to provide care via the internet, so you can still connect with one without having to leave the house.
  11. Do Something Meaningful: Without a sense of purpose or meaning, it’s easy to be negatively impacted by the pandemic’s isolating effects. You can add more meaning to your life by learning a new skill through an online course, seeking online volunteer opportunities, or engaging in projects like developing a family tree.
  12. Plan for the Future: It’s crucial to remind yourself that this too shall pass. A great way to do that is by planning out the things you’ll do in the future once the pandemic is over. For example, you can plan a fun family getaway or write a bucket list of things you want to do before you die.
  13. Distract Yourself: Give your mind a break every day by distracting yourself with activities that you enjoy. Binge a new TV show on Netflix,  reread an old book series that you loved as a kid, or play games like Sudoku to keep your mind sharp. Allow yourself to enjoy silly or frivolous things to cope more effectively with the situation.
  14. Set Strict Time Limits for Work and School: Avoid overworking yourself during the pandemic by creating and sticking to strict work and school schedules. It can be easy to get so wrapped up in these activities that they dominate your life, and imposing time limits will help you avoid burnout.
  15. Unplug from News and Social Media: Although social media can help you connect with others, it can also make you feel more isolated if you get too wrapped up in it. Pencil in specific times for checking the news and social media, and consider turning off your phone or keeping it elsewhere for a few hours every day.
  16. Confide in Family and Friends: Expressing your feelings of loneliness and isolation to friends and family can be very cathartic. Likewise, helping people with their problems can help you feel better and give your life more meaning.
  17. Be Compassionate: More than ever, it’s essential to go easy on yourself and others. Practicing self-compassion is a terrific way to help yourself cope with the pandemic. Being compassionate toward others feels good and helps others feel good – a win-win situation.
  18. Remind Yourself That This Will Pass: Although it may not seem like it at times, the pandemic will eventually wane. Vaccines are being distributed, and life should start returning to some semblance of normalcy before too long. Remind yourself of this every day, knowing there is light at the end of this long, dark tunnel.

This Isolation and Loneliness Will End, But Get Help if You Need It

We are living through unprecedented times, and everyone is trying to cope. If you feel alone, lonely and isolated, you’re actually in good company. Keep the tips above in mind to get through each day and to ward off the worst feelings. Most of all, be gentle with yourself and others.

It is essential to recognize the pandemic effects on your overall mental health, an eating disorder, or your recovery. If you need a helping hand, Integrative Life Center is here to help. 

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