With winter looming in North America and no end to the coronavirus pandemic in sight, many people are wondering how to combat loneliness in this new-normal state of isolationism.
In an effort to keep ourselves and others safe, those who can are staying home or isolating for periods of time. But now, eight months into this new normal, many people are reaching a point where separation is doing more harm than good.
Even before the pandemic, loneliness was considered an epidemic. Our busy lifestyles and lack of deep social connections were already leading us to loneliness and social isolation, which “can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day,” according to researchers from the NIHCM Foundation.
The results of a study released on November 3 in British Columbia, Canada found seniors surveyed fear dying of loneliness more than COVID-19. Called Staying Apart to Stay Safe, the seniors advocate organization heard from more than 13,000 people between August 26 and September 30 on the impact of visit restrictions on long-term care and assisted living.
“Our pandemic response measures are meant to keep our seniors safe, but what are we keeping them safe for if not to enjoy the limited time they have left with the ones they love?” asked seniors advocate Isobel Mackenzie in the report.
How do we combat loneliness during COVID-19?
While some areas are opening up, others are facing additional lockdowns or reduced capacities. People who are already marginalized due to chronic illness, disability or living in long-term care facilities face the highest risk of being negatively impacted by the extended solitude.
With a deeper understanding of how the virus is transmitted and how to protect ourselves from it, it’s time to find a better balance between safety and compassion.
Caring for others and showing hospitality is a tenet of Christianity, one that has been strained during this health crisis.
“Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.”– Galatians 6:2-3
How do we as Christians balance staying home with reaching out? How do we share one another’s burdens when our lives have become so much smaller, and we may not even be aware of who needs help?
One way we can find out is by asking. In an article for Christianity Today, Jana Magruder suggests having intentional interactions with those we are in contact with, asking deeper questions rather than settling for surface conversations.
Another way we can continue building relationships with others is through finding ways to relate. Ross McCall, editor of the MissionHub blog encourages Christians to listen more than they talk, ask open questions and to pause and pray before posting on social media.
“Moments of crisis have the potential to either isolate us from one another, or bond us in ways we never forget,” he said.
Here are a few other suggestions to combat loneliness during COVID-19
- Look for creative ways to spend time with others while following current restrictions
While it may not be possible to get together for the holidays like you’re used to, there are still ways to spend time together with your loved ones. Be creative and find ways to connect.
- Make a point to check in regularly
Now more than ever it’s important to make a habit of checking in with people. While you may not feel like being social, reaching out can help you feel less lonely and will have a positive impact on others too.
- Find hobbies, learn something new or spend time doing things you enjoy
Just because our lives are smaller, it doesn’t mean we can’t experience joy. Keeping busy by doing things you enjoy or by learning a new skill distracts your mind from focusing on loneliness and is good for you!
- Volunteer to help others
You may be able to find a way to support others online or there may be an opportunity to help others in person that both follows current restrictions and keeps you safe. Look for opportunities to serve others.
- Join an online community
If you live in a remote area or lack in-person connections joining an online community like a book club or peer-support group can make a remarkable impact and help stave off loneliness.