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Three Steps To Overcome Loneliness In A Season Of COVID

As silly as it sounds, the thing I’m looking forward to the most is a nice, long hug!

This season of COVID, shelter-in-place, uncertainty, and "new normal" has certainly brought about an overwhelming amount of emotions to the surface, whether relief or anxiety provoking. It's a roller coaster of, "I'm fine," "I'm not fine," "I'm okay," "I'm not okay."

Some people are feeling less stress and pressure from work and their former, busy life schedules, as they seize this opportunity to relax, reset certain areas of their life, and plan for brighter days. They are also challenging themselves to reach out to family and friends, more so than before the pandemic, in order to both strengthen those relationships and check in on their well-being. They are taking advantage of this time to connect socially, take walks, exercise, and read more. One friend told me she has been "organizing and purging clothes and other household items she no longer needs to donate and bless others who are less fortunate." Another friend said, "the shelter-in-place has been a blessings, because it has caused me to slow down and allowed me to spend more time with my kids." For many it has also meant no long commutes, a better work-life balance, and spending dinner at home with the family. In addition to saving money on gas, connecting with family and friends, and getting projects done around the house, the biggest theme I hear is that family and friends have been reading the Bible more, doing YouVersion Bible plans, and being intentional with their relationship with God. Loving this aspect of the "new norm."

Still, along with these blessings, there have also been real struggles and challenges. People may be more apt to listen to the news to keep informed, while getting overcome by all of the negativity and tragedy of the world epidemic and falling into a state of fear and worry by all that the media portrays. People have been furloughed, lost jobs, and have needed to rely on their unemployment checks to put food on the table, and just to survive. The COVID season only adds more layers to our already complex lives, such as a friend who recently divorced and is now at a place where she can no longer avoid thoughts of what the future holds after divorce, being single with two kids.

Loneliness is a natural, human emotion, but the inescapable feeling of isolation can damage our emotional and physical health. Loneliness can cause anxiety and depression and it can affect our quality of sleep, leading to heart disease and causing premature death. The "forced" isolation is a determinant in the loneliness equation, and according to experts, "can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day." Research indicates that the "rates of loneliness have doubled in the United States," over the past 50 years, and people feel alone and excluded. These rates are highest among the elderly and millennial populations.

In addition, some Americans express that their relationships are not meaningful and they feel lonely. The lack of meaningful relationships can be a factor in feeling lonely, left out, and not feeling understood. "Loneliness is the state of distress or discomfort that results when one perceives a gap between one's desires for social connection and actual experiences of it." How can one foster significant relationships that are fruitful, healthy, and long-lasting? Where can one find these friends after high school and college life. Where do people go to connect and find these meaningful relationship that will help them feel a sense of belonging, being cared for, and needed, especially in this stormy season?

A teacher who teaches young children with disabilities said she, "didn't sign up for this," referring to the "zoom" teaching. She misses her kids and being with them physically. Although she loves teaching, sadly a new career might be in her future.

I've always had friends at work and maybe that is why I've really enjoyed my work environments. It's a blessing to work for an organization with a great mission that you are passionate about. It's even better when you hang out with these friends, not only at work, but after work. Gallup research shows that having a "Best friend at work" transforms what the workplace represents. It enables us to move forward into the future workplace -- from a past workplace desire merely for a job to a future workplace mindset that, "It's not just my job, it's my life" experience. In addition, using our strengths in a team environment can increase engagement, improve processes, and help reach organizational goals. It empowers teams to collaborate and individuals to get to do what they do best. Definitely, this time of working from home can cripple our ability to connect with coworkers on a more intimate level.(Best Friend at Work)

One Harvard study found that "workers who experienced higher levels of loneliness also reported fewer promotions, less job satisfaction, and a greater likelihood for frequently changing jobs." How is COVID hindering your work relationships and the ability to collaborate with your team? How are you adding value to your organization? Are you building meaningful relationships outside of work?

Office life may never look the same again. Many are predicting a permanent end to the office environment we once knew. According to CEO Mark Zuckerberg, "many of Facebook employees will be allowed to work from home permanently even after the coronavirus crisis ends." Although, some people welcome this idea, others miss the social interactions that are fostered in the work setting that has now become a futile, obscured endless cycle where the weekdays become one long, continuous day with zoom burnout and the need for social connections.

Depression, anxiety, and suicide continue to rise. For 23-year old Erin Mackenzie, working remotely for months, alone from her bedroom space only compromised her mental health. She became depressed, lost weight, and anxiety set in due to the lack of work life balance. She realized, "I didn't have set hours." Actually going to a work environment, other than one's home, enhances our productivity and creativity, improves our motivation, and it is essential for building lifelong relationships, as well as promoting our mental health.

It's been challenging to balance my spiritual, emotional, social, and physical well-being. If I am not filled spiritually, emotionally I feel off. Many days it just feels like too much effort especially the longer this goes on. I definitely have not been in a good mindset to achieve new routines which I know I need to do. I am learning the importance of community during this time. We need each other to continue to grow in all areas of life! (contributors)

One friend told me, "living alone during a pandemic has been challenging. I am very much a people person and the one thing we are not able to do is physically connect with others. I have my good and bad days and on the bad days I try to remind myself of everything God has blessed me with. One of the bigger things I’m so grateful for is not feeling lonely. I understand that I’m alone but during all of this I have never felt lonely. I know I have a great support system. I just need to be brave and vulnerable enough to ask for help when I need it. Which is scary for me." She is right. For some people, asking for help is a scary thing. And, she is also right that we need to be brave, let down our guard, and ask for help. As I see it, asking for help is not only for our benefit, but for the benefit of the other person. For in the serving, there is the blessing, not only for the one who is asking, but for the one who is blessed by the doing.

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:16

We need to know that we can turn to God in our time of need. That He wants to have a relationship with us so we must communicate with Him regularly. Doing so regularly and even asking for help for myself are what I struggle with the most. I have no problem praying for others when they reach out but I have trouble asking for my needs to be met.

Here are three steps to help overcome loneliness.

1. Build Meaningful Relationships (and don't be afraid to ask for help)

2. Get Out, Stay Active, and Enjoy the Fresh Air

3. Be Proactive Toward Work-Life Balance and Your Mental Health

Loneliness is tied to the quality of our relationships and not having another person or even a pet in the home contributes to this loneliness. So, it's important to be aware of when you are feeling lonely and address those feelings. We are hard-wired for connection and without human connection it can be detrimental to our health. Reach out to your friends. Check in on them and their well-being. Ask if they are feeling lonely and help them engage with family and friends and establish connections in their community.

"As silly as it sounds, the thing I’m looking forward to the most is a nice, long hug," announced my friend. "That does not sound silly at all" I exclaimed, "It sounds amazing!"


Sites and Contributors

Friends: Donna Brown, Trisha Garzelli, Anita Kriner Talavera, and Melissa Sandoval


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