Over a year has passed since we were first compelled to stay at home, and people are only just beginning to understand the full effects of the experience.
For some, it helped them appreciate their connections with others and brought them closer to their family and friends. For others, it caused them to develop feelings of loneliness and social isolation.
A study published in February in the journal Social Science & Medicine reported a significant worldwide increase in loneliness and a decrease in feelings of friendship during the pandemic, with women and those with significant illnesses found to be disproportionately affected.
If you have been experiencing loneliness for a long time and cannot shake the feeling, it may be a sign of a more serious condition called chronic loneliness.
Signs of chronic loneliness
Symptoms and signs differ depending on who you are and what your situation is. If you consistently feel some or all of the following, you may be dealing with chronic loneliness.
You have few friends. The people you see are casual acquaintances you can spend time with, but you do not have a deep connection with them.
You experience feelings of isolation. This can happen even when you are surrounded by other people or in large groups.
You lack self-esteem. You struggle with feelings like you are less than or not good enough.
You do not feel connected. When you reach out to others, your interactions feel shallow, and you do not get a lot from people emotionally.
You feel anxious and tired. It can feel like you are constantly drained and unable to interact the way you would like to.
Some studies have also found that chronic loneliness causes a 29% increase in coronary heart disease and a 32% increase in stroke risk. It has also shown to trigger insomnia and other sleep disorders.
The bottom line is that chronic loneliness often serves as a gateway to a range of unwanted and potentially fatal health issues.
What you can do
There are several steps you can take to help mitigate these negative feelings.
First and foremost, stay in touch. If you have been missing relatives or friends, utilise social media apps like Facetime or Zoom to reach out. It may not be the same as having them right in front of you, but it will help remind you of the people who care for you.
You should also volunteer for events. These can include community and social events such as neighbourhood gotong-royong sessions or non-governmental causes. Find one you are passionate about and try to get involved.
Try not to spend all your time in the house. Instead, go for walks or spend some time exploring a local park. It might seem like a simple act but learning to enjoy some quiet time outdoors could be the first step towards motivating you to want more interaction with others.
Make plans to do something. You might need to push yourself outside your comfort zone to start feeling less lonely and do something new. Attending gatherings and meetings regularly, even if it is only a few times a week, can also provide you with something to look forward to.
In short, loneliness can be overcome. It does require a conscious effort on your part to make a change. In the long run, making a change can make you happier, healthier and enable you to impact others around you in a positive way.