Conditions are perfect for a Silent Killer to attack our minds, bodies, and most specifically, the emotions within our new culture of social-distancing. That Silent Killer – Loneliness. Let’s understand what loneliness is. Social scientists, as reported by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), define loneliness as “the pain one feels as a result of a discrepancy between one’s social needs and one’s ability to satisfy those needs.”
Said another way, when our need for connection, interaction, and belonging are unmet and we feel unable to fulfill those needs, that pain we feel is loneliness. Why are the current conditions right for loneliness?
Edicts such as “social distancing,” “work from home,” “shelter-in-place,” can all set the stage for increased loneliness. Regular activities such as after-work trips to the bar, small group studies, birthday parties, Saturday/Sunday worship are halted. Our places of employment, schools, and civic communities that we are part of, are all places where we often connect and interact with people. These places, where we connect with people who help us feel as though we belong, have closed their doors.
It’s important that we do not allow ourselves to feel helpless during this time of forced isolation. This is one area where technology can truly help. My son and I have been part of a small group that meets every other week. Last night was the first time we did the meeting online because of COVID-19. It was quite uplifting.
We interacted with people that we have deep connections with within a community that we belonged to. We were able to laugh, talk and just be known by people who care about us. We decided to increase our meeting frequency from every other week to every week because we realized how encouraging it was for our psyche. Part of the purpose of forming social communities is to help us push through difficult times.
How do we use technology to help us ward off the attack of loneliness? Don’t cancel the coffee dates you have with your friends or the post-work drink you have with your co-workers. Continue with your small group meetings and your marriage double dates with your favorite couple. JUST DO IT ONLINE. Schedule a Virtual Date using Google Meet, FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, Houseparty or any of the other apps available.
Phone calls are nice and text messages can be helpful. However, there is nothing that compares to actual face-to-face interaction and what it does for our emotional connectivity. The ability to see the empathy, shared joy, or the heavy anxiety on your friend’s face enhances the connection in ways that emojis and tone of voice can’t quite match.
Fighting loneliness is not about the number of people you interact with. Shasta Nelson, a healthy relationship expert and author of Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness and Friendships Don’t Just Happen! The Guide to Creating a Meaningful Circle of Girlfriends doesn’t believe that the answer to loneliness is to go out and make more friends, but to deepen current relationships. It’s being intentional to create opportunities for meaningful interaction within the communities you belong to. And within those meaningful interactions, we must take advantage of the opportunities to connect at a deeper level, to be vulnerable, to be known.
Think about the people in your social community—whether it is family, friends, civic, faith, etc. Who do you already have deep connections with? Who do you want to develop deeper connections with? Who are the people that you feel the safest with? We need to feel loved and supported during difficult times. Not only do we need to feel loved and supported, but we must also remember others that are most vulnerable to loneliness as well. Reaching out to those in need is a way to attack our own loneliness.
Nelson suggests that when someone is feeling a deficiency of love and support, “[they should] consider who in their life they would want to build a more meaningful or closer relationship with and then make a list. Start prioritizing those relationships.” There are times when loneliness is at a place where we need to call and get help from the professionals. Don’t feel like you have to win this by yourself. Many professionals are meeting via phone or video conferencing during this period of social distancing.
As we are being intentional about prioritizing relationships, don’t hesitate to meet online for coffee. Schedule a tea using Google Meet. Create a calendar invite for your book club on Zoom. Use Skype for you and your buddies to work out together. Set up a video chat with an elderly neighbor. Create virtual dates within your social community to lessen and hopefully minimize the discrepancy between your social needs and your ability to meet those needs. And while you’re interacting, connect – really connect. Your emotional wellbeing needs it.