Coronavirus: Forcing Us to Rethink Things We Normally Take for Granted
By Jeff Rubin
For most human beings, the desire for companionship, engagement, and socialization is a fact of life. Unfortunately, the coronavirus is forcing us to rethink many of the things we normally take for granted. Not the least of which is the freedom to move about.
Limiting our options in a time of the coronavirus pandemic, while necessary and unpleasant will eventually pass. However, what about the millions of individuals for which social isolation and loneliness are an everyday occurrence? How do they cope with a reality that is far too real and equally as debilitating?
According to The Kaiser Family Foundation, an independent non-profit organization focusing on national health issues, about 4 in 10 adults in the U.S., more than 105 million of us, are at higher risk if infected with the coronavirus. 76.3 million, or 72 percent – are age 60 or older. The remaining 29.2 million adults in this group are ages 18-59.
A 2018 international survey on Loneliness and Social Isolation* conducted by the Foundation www.kff.org in partnership with the Economist www.economist.com shed some light on the subject. According to the report, “more than a fifth of adults in the U.S. (22 percent) and the U.K. (23 percent) say they often or always feel lonely, feel that they lack companionship, feel left out, or feel isolated from others.”
Among those most likely to report being lonely or socially isolated are people who say they have, “few confidants, have mental health conditions, have a debilitating chronic illness or disability, are lower-income, and are single, divorced, widowed, or separated.”
While loneliness is often thought of as a problem mainly affecting the elderly, what might surprise you is the fact that most people reporting loneliness across the United States, the United Kingdom, and Japan, were younger than 50.
Regardless of age, those who consider loneliness a major factor in their lives were at least two times as likely to have a debilitating disability or chronic disease or were told by a medical professional that they had a serious mental health condition. In either case, individuals were almost as likely to report debilitating disabilities or chronic diseases, as they were to report having a serious mental health condition.
What may be most disturbing in this report is that three in ten people experiencing loneliness say it led them to consider suicide. In those instances, people experiencing loneliness said they had “just a few” or “no” people nearby they could rely on for help or support or with whom they could discuss things personally important to them.
Whether young or old, even in less challenging times, loneliness can be a serious issue. So how then, under pandemic conditions, can people be expected to cope?
Dr. Kevin Gilliland, a leading clinical psychologist and an expert in mental health and addiction, describes the current situation as “a breeding ground for excessive worry and anxiety, making it extremely important to keep up healthy habits not just to avoid getting sick, but to improve mental health.” Those habits include plenty of sleep, healthy food, and movement. Gilliland further advises to “avoid boredom or isolation as much as possible.”
“Boredom creates additional worry and anxiety,” he says. “It’s critical that we stay active physically and mentally. Try new workouts, get outdoors, use apps for exercise — and mentally — watch TV or online learning, read a book, start painting. Do not make the mistake of thinking that recommendations to stay away from people and large gatherings means that we must stay in our rooms. Look to get outdoors, whether that’s sitting on your balcony, going for a drive with your windows down, going for a trail run or bike ride. Or walk your dog, even if you don’t have one.”
Under normal circumstances, many authorities would suggest spending time with a loved one, visiting an elderly neighbor or volunteering to help where needed. These, however, are anything but normal times. What about people who cannot get out, like the elderly or infirmed?
A recent AARP article, How to Fight the Social Isolation of Coronavirus, offers several relevant suggestions. Among them, the importance of:
- Talking to family and friends to develop a plan to safely stay in regular touch. Your plan should confirm whom you can reach out to if you need help accessing food, medicine, and other medical supplies.
- Remaining connected with people who live alone; regular social contact can be a lifeline for support if they develop symptoms. Regularly scheduled phone calls and video conferences along with texting and emails can help compensate for a lack of in-person contact.
- Creating a list of community and faith-based organizations that you or the people in your plan can contact for information, health care services, support, and resources. Consider including on your list organizations that provide mental health or counseling services as well as food and other supplies.
- Remembering the value and needs of your pets. Pets can help combat loneliness. Some pets have been linked to their owners’ longevity.
- Take a break from news stories and social media; hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting. How important it is, especially during these stressful days of managing rapid change and adjusting to effects the pandemic passing through society, to share your thoughts, concerns, and feelings with people you trust.
Please join me in sharing these sources of support with others.
State and local governments are setting up resource lists for those affected by coronavirus COVID-19. The Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration also has an online locator www.samhsa.gov and hotline, at 800-662-HELP (4357), to help people find counseling services near where they live. AARP Foundation’s Connect2Affect program https://connect2affect.org provides information, self-assessments and affordable options for low-income older people to stay connected. The Administration for Community Living offers current and regularly updated information in English and in Spanish https://acl.gov/COVID-19.
Speaking of social isolation, here’s one young man’s experience in a self -imposed week of solitude. Part of the Loneliness Project underway in the UK. The Campaign believes that people of all ages need connections that matter.
Jeff Rubin is a nationally recognized speaker, author, and adviser on community and aging issues, having spent over 20 years as a director and facilitator of community service programs at the local, state, and national levels. An advocate for “Age-friendly” and “Livable” communities, Mr. Rubin is the author of the newly released Wisdom of Age: Perceptions and insights from one generation to another. Contact Jeff at firstname.lastname@example.org