Many of us feel lonely from time to time and these short-term feelings should’t lead to long-term mental health issues. However, the impact of the Coronavirus and the need to self-isolate from family, friends, and others to avoid spreading the virus has been emotionally challenging on all of us --- both mentally and physically.
According to psychologists, loneliness is the state of distress or discomfort that results when one perceives a gap between one’s desires for social connection and the actual experience of it. Even those who are surrounded by others throughout the day can experience feelings of loneliness.
People who live alone or with minimal human contact are more likely to develop a mental health condition, experience cognitive decline, and have shorter life spans. On the other hand, those who are socially connected or part of a community tend to have more moments of happiness and live longer.
Loneliness does not discriminate. It affects people of all ages and both men and women equally. So what can you do if you are experiencing short or long-term feelings of loneliness?
Dr. Vivek Murphy, former U.S. Surgeon General believes that building a sense of community now, even with the constraints of social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic is key to mental wellness. He recommends that we spend some time every day reaching out to people in our lives for just 15 minutes a day
"In the short term, that 15 minutes could have a significant impact on your mood," says Murphy. "When done consistently over time, it can be a lifeline that connects you to the outside world."
To get the full health benefit, Murphy recommends avoiding the desire to multitask when connecting with others and to focus on the interaction.
"One of the greatest gifts we can give other people is the gift of our full attention," notes Murphy. "It's not always what we say. It's about our ability to listen, and that has a powerful impact on our connection."
During the pandemic, mental health experts are encouraging the public to find new ways to feel connected such as joining a local chat group, or starting one yourself. Volunteering is also a good way to stay connected --- whether it’s delivering food to those in need or offering to help a neighbor with yard work while do so at least 6 feet apart.
"Service can be a powerful antidote to loneliness," explains Murphy. "One of the things that's powerful about service is it shifts the focus from us to other people, while reaffirming that we have value to bring to the world."
Speaking of value, you already know how good exercise is for your physical health. But you might be surprised to know that exercise is also good for your mental health. Studies show that exercise can be as effective as talk therapy and medication for treating mild to moderate depression. You can also exercise with a group while social distancing to combat feeling lonely.
Finally, having an animal companion has been scientifically proven reduce loneliness and reduce stress in humans. Along with being man's best friend, dogs are well-known to have multiple mental health benefits including boosting self-esteem and improving social connections. However, before you decide to get a dog, you should consider other animal companions based on your living situation, work life, and financial resources. Cats, rabbits, birds, and hamsters are also known for providing companionship, lowering blood pressure, stress and anxiety.
If you are struggling with a mental health condition please talk to a friend or mental health professional. There is no shame in mental illness. To hear others talk about their own experiences with mental illness, check out our podcast, Speaking Candidly with Candace here on our website, and every other Wednesday on Google and Apple podcasts.