The Loneliness Pandemic
There is no vaccine for loneliness, and no one is immune. Everyone experiences the empty feeling, the staggering realization that we are alone at some point. However, a byproduct of Covid-19 is a pandemic of loneliness.
The writer Charles Bukowski wrote, “There is a loneliness in this world so great that you can see it in the slow movement of the hands of a clock.”
The quote resonates just as much with us today as it likely did with the author when he wrote it. In fact, loneliness is so pervasive worldwide that Japan just created a Minister of Loneliness to find ways to combat the depression and anxiety this pandemic made much worse.
It is worth mentioning that feelings of loneliness, depression, and isolation are not only due to the pandemic. The rate of people experiencing these feelings on a regular basis was already increasing. However, since the pandemic, those already rising rates have doubled, with some groups stating that 80 percent of people feel they are living lives of loneliness.
Does it Matter?
Loneliness is not as simple or minor as it sounds. Loneliness is a negative emotion that can lead to depression, anxiety, and other psychological disorders. It can also alter your brain function, which may be due to cortisol and other stress hormones causing inflammation.
A study of lonely but otherwise completely normal adults found they ended up experiencing a higher incidence of dementia compared to a non-lonely control group.
Neurologist Dilip Jeste, director of the Center for Healthy Aging at the University of California, San Diego, describes loneliness as, “a form of stress that depresses the immune system.”
Of course, our immune systems are essential for survival, so it is in our best interest as individuals and as a nation to find ways to cope with loneliness and isolation.
At the beginning of the pandemic, everyone was excited about Zoom. Fast forward to now, and we are so sick of Zoom that it might as well be called, “Doom.”
Being social isn’t one-sided, and sometimes you need to make the first move. Humans tend to enjoy the company of other humans who are kind and seem genuinely interested in what they have to say.
We may be wearing masks that cover our smiles, but that doesn’t mean we can’t say hello to neighbors. Also, reach out to any family or friends, even if it is just a telephone call or message.
Consider sending someone a small gift or asking friends or family members if they need help with anything. Giving to others feels good and is part of building stronger relationships.
Extending that thought, strong relationships are one of the keys to combating loneliness. A few close friends can make more of a positive difference in your general mood and feeling of community than thousands of followers on social media.
Food for Mood
The saying, “You are what you eat,” may be true when it comes to food’s influence on mood. Some foods are known for exacerbating feelings of anxiety and depression. Some of these offenders that you should think about avoiding, to maintain balanced blood sugar levels and prevent inflammation, that increase feelings of anxiety are:
- Processed Foods
Healthy habits are important for preventing anxiety, also. Get adequate sleep and drink plenty of water. We mentioned blood sugar levels, so it is also important not to skip meals as the plummeting blood sugar levels may worsen symptoms of anxiety.
Food to incorporate into your diet to replace the foods that can be responsible for giving feelings like anxiety and depression a boost include:
- Foods high in magnesium like spinach, Swiss chard, nuts, and legumes
- Foods high in Omega-3s like salmon
- Foods high in B vitamins like avocados and almonds
- Antioxidant-rich foods like blackberries, blueberries, and strawberries
- Vegetables like asparagus, beets, and broccoli
- Spices like turmeric
Exercise is good for you both mentally and physically. In fact, studies on teenagers experiencing loneliness found that simply taking a walk immediately decreased the loneliness and other negative feelings they felt.
If you can get outdoors to exercise, the sunlight will be beneficial. However, even indoors, exercise will boost your mood. For activities indoors, consider singing while dancing to your favorite upbeat music or following along with a yoga, martial arts, or exercise video. You can even find free videos online on YouTube.
Sometimes the best efforts aren’t enough. If you are suffering from loneliness that will not go away, counseling can help you identify where these feelings come from and find practical ways to work through the negative emotions.
This is a stressful time, and statistics show that loneliness is something most of us have experienced during the pandemic. The uncertainty and fear of the pandemic can intensify negative feelings.
Nothing is permanent. It may feel as if loneliness is wearing you down, but you can turn it around and chip away at loneliness and other negative emotions to rediscover calm and work toward happiness.
If you need to talk to an experienced mental health professional, consider scheduling an appointment with one of our caring counselors here at the Jacksonville Center for Counseling. We know that the pandemic is scary and that safety is essential. We wear masks, social distance, and offer virtual counseling.