The End Of Loneliness

Through these pandemic months, many of us have navigated unsettling times of work disruption, online schooling, and the inability to travel for work or holiday. One of the most unsettling realizations many have faced is how easy it is to become socially isolated, hunker down in our own bat caves, and cut ourselves off from the rest of the world – in fact some of us really enjoyed it. Now that most North Americans are loosening restrictions, opening their doors, and losing the masks, does this mean that we will stop being lonely?



In the 2020 Harvard study on loneliness, researchers discovered that 36% of participants reported feeling lonely "frequently" or "almost all of the time". This percentage increased to 61% for adolescents and young adults, and 51% for young mothers. Researchers concluded that, while the pandemic exacerbated conditions that contribute to feelings of loneliness, the importance of social connection will remain post-pandemic, especially for those who are more vulnerable.


Many of us have experienced the relief and rest of the pandemic at the same time that we navigated the past 16 months of continually changing protocols, health information, and work, school, and community structures. This dichotomy of relief and anxiety led many people to withdraw from exploring new opportunities for social connection that were not obvious but were much needed.

...it's essential for our own physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being that we reconnect with people who care for us.

Yes, many of us face-timed, and zoomed, and reconnected with family that we hadn't spoken to as often as we should have. But the face-to-face interactions with colleagues, friends, and family dwindled to a minimum and that left many of the most vulnerable alone, unsupported, and in desperate need of connection.


One of the ways that I was able to maintain and grow in friendship over these pandemic months was by starting a reading and discussion group with a close friend. Throughout the years we have connected over shared interests and some books that we have tackled together.


Over the past year, we read Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment and met every couple of weeks to talk it over. These meetings started online and as weather permitted, moved outdoors on our back decks, and then to coffee shop patio tables.


Reading about Raskolnikov's (the main character of Crime and Punishment) inner turmoil and his tendency to lock himself away and cut himself off from family and friends was an important reminder that sometimes we need relationships most when we feel least able to engage them.


Without social connection we fail to thrive. Infants that lack human touch may stop eating, developing on pace with other children, and may even die. Adults who lack social connection are more at risk for heart problems, depression, anxiety, suicide, and also die earlier than those with larger and more reliable friend groups.


Julianne Holt-Lunstad is a leading researcher in social relationships and how they affect health outcomes. Her March 2021 Ted Talk highlights the importance of building and maintaining good social connection over our lifespan. The size, diversity, and quality of our community relationships is predictive of our well-being.


So as much as some of us would rather hide away and avoid the awkward social situations we find ourselves in when we head back into the real world, it's essential for our own physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being that we reconnect with people who care for us.


It might also prompt us to ask the question: "Who are the people in my network that need to connect with me?"

...it's essential for our own physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being that we reconnect with people who care for us.

In the coming days, the collective sigh of relief that things are returning to normal will also be met with a resistance to engage with larger social gatherings, an uneasiness with physical touch, and a temptation to retain some of the distance that we created between ourselves and others.


The loosening of restrictions may mean increasing opportunities to engage socially but an increasing sense of loneliness was a problem long before the pandemic. This isn't the end of loneliness, but it might be the beginning of more intentional relationships with people we know care about us.



Ironically the technological solutions that kept us connected and made it possible to work, to order food, and distract ourselves by crushing candy and keeping tabs on our friend's bread-making skills, are the same tech distractions that disrupt social connection and may be at fault for the growing sense of loneliness before the pandemic.


Identifying relationships that are supportive and nurturing might be the first step to coming out of our shells and developing connections that will help us emerge from our bunkers and into our post-pandemic realities. Re-engaging our friends and colleagues in meaningful conversation may help us understand that, even though we sometimes still enjoy staying home on our own, or zooming with newfound internet friends, our face-to-face friendships make a big difference in our sense of well-being.

This isn't the end of loneliness, but it might be the beginning of more intentional relationships with people we know care about us.

Finally, being aware that other people's well-being is also at stake may encourage us to reach across that weird invisible barrier of physical distance and say hello. The pandemic may have taught us that slowing down the pace of our lives is a good thing, but losing connections with supportive relationships is not.


Hopefully we can recognize how much we need each other and that we are not alone.



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