Prior to COVID-19, the United States had a chronic loneliness problem. During the current pandemic, rates of loneliness have dramatically increased, especially among those most vulnerable.
As stated in a 2018 report, more than 20 percent of Americans reported that they often or always feel lonely, which has been linked to a 26 percent increased risk of premature death. Although social distancing is a vital strategy during COVID-19, these measures can worsen people’s sense of isolation.
Researchers have long studied the psychological impact of loneliness, as chronic states of loneliness have been linked to anxiety, depression, PTSD, and numerous other mental health issues. Focusing on the neuroscience of loneliness, researchers have found that social isolation impacts dopaminergic and serotonergic neurons, both of which affect our emotional well-being.
When dopaminergic neurons in the brain are activated due to social isolation, this also triggers the motivation to search for social interactions. While loneliness does not “kill us” per se, if it is not addressed, feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression can result in worsening health complications, including negative effects on the heart.
Since the current pandemic began, governments and communities across the globe have focused on proactive strategies to flatten the curve. Of these strategies, one of the most effective is physical distancing. However, this strategy comes with psychological consequences.
Although the psychological impact of social distancing during similar scenarios is limited, a recently published review evaluated 24 studies to study the relationship between quarantine measures and mental health. While studying the psychological toll of social distancing during outbreaks of H1N1, Ebola, and SARS, it was found that numerous mental health problems can result, including insomnia, substance abuse, stress, and more.
In total, 2,760 quarantined people were studied, 34 percent of which reported high levels of psychological distress, indicating increased levels of anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems. In response to COVID-19, mental health and crisis hotline calls have surged, indicating that a potential wave of mental health issues is upon us.
The Disaster Distress Helpline, a federal crisis hotline run by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) saw an 891 percent increase in calls this past March, compared to the month of March last year. Although isolation and loneliness have a large role to play, so does devastating job losses, increased substance abuse, and increased rates of domestic violence.
COVID-19 has resulted in unprecedented times, and although you may feel lonely at the moment, it’s important to know that you’re not alone. The entire nation and world can relate to what you’re currently experiencing. If social distancing has increased feelings of loneliness, take these steps to feel more connected and to better cope.
For many, being physically isolated from friends and family is not something that they have ever had to experience. Right now, you may be feeling uncomfortable and the distress you feel is considered to be a normal response. As discussed, loneliness is believed to be a biological drive — one that motivates us to connect with one another.
You may be feeling extreme anxiety for the first time, and that can be frightening. In other cases, you may have been diagnosed with a mental health or substance abuse disorder prior to COVID-19, which has since caused your symptoms to worsen. Regardless of your circumstances, it’s imperative to remember that there is nothing “wrong” with you.
You may simply require mental health assistance, just as you would go to the doctor to tend to a physical health concern. There is NO shame in asking for help. Learn more about the coronavirus and treatment here.
Since social distancing measures began, the demand for meditation and mindfulness apps have significantly increased. Meditation can help you feel more connected with yourself and others, preventing you from becoming more withdrawn. Implementing mindful breathing into your everyday routine will also support your mind-body connection.
As you become more in-tune with yourself, it’s important to continuously remind yourself why you’re staying home and what your efforts mean for your community. Research shows that when we face a stressor, how we view that situation will dictate our physiological response. Learning to shift your mindset will not happen overnight, but learning to do so can benefit you for years to come.
It’s okay to have good and bay days. When you do have a bad day, speak to someone you love, either on the phone, through text messages, or on a face-to-face app. Talking about your emotions can help you refocus. Schedule regular check-ins with those you love, allowing you to connect while respecting the perimeters of social distancing.
To support your mental health, you should also create a new routine that promotes positivity and productivity.
During this time, it’s important to maintain some level of structure and predictability. If you’re currently not working due to COVID-19, try to wake up and go to bed at the same time, just as you would to get up and go to work. Sleep is imperative when aiming to battle stress. During the day, schedule time for the things you love while trying something new. Perhaps this is the year that you start your garden or learn to bake.
The benefits of exercise and a healthy diet are well-understood in terms of physical and mental well-being, so be sure to make your health a priority. You should also do something creative, like paint, learn photography tips, or start journaling. Research shows that creativity can help combat feelings of loneliness.
In addition, it’s important that you limit your intake of alcohol and avoid drug use. The World Health Organization has urged the public to remain sober during this time, as lockdown measures can increase a wide range of harmful effects on the health and behavior of users. This is the time to remain vigilant.
Remember, if you’re struggling with a substance abuse disorder, know that help is still available during this time. Transformations Treatment Center can help you take the next step — please call us today!