“A season of loneliness and isolation is when the caterpillar gets its wings. Remember that next time you feel alone.”
— Mandy Hale
When we heard about the countrywide lockdown on TV and in the media, we all distanced ourselves from our family members, friends, and loved ones for the protection of our health. As the COVID-19 virus spreads rapidly throughout the country, social isolation is the most effective method for limiting its transmission. To decrease COVID-19 transmission, social distancing has been implemented among the general community in addition to quarantine and isolation protocols for people who have been exposed to or infected with the virus. In contrast, the social distance may unintentionally contribute to social isolation and loneliness.
To distinguish between the terms, social distance, social isolation and loneliness – social distancing, also known as physical distancing, is a set of non-pharmaceutical interventions or measures designed to keep a physical space between individuals and reduce the number of times people come into close contact with one another to avoid the transmission of the virus of COVID-19.
A state of social isolation is defined as a complete or nearly complete lack of contact between an individual and society, on the other hand, loneliness refers to loneliness as a subjective emotional state, being alone does not make a person lonely. Social distance is tied closely to social isolation. According to research, while loneliness and social isolation are not synonymous, both can hurt health via similar and distinct mechanisms. By restricting our connections to reduce the COVID-19 spread, we are increasingly isolated socially – at least as far as physical interactions are concerned (Hartt, 2020).
The virus has a major impact on the population, particularly on the elderly. According to several studies and research, the risk of infection is higher in older individuals over the age of 60, who are at a higher risk of severe sickness, hospitalization, intensive care unit admission, and death. The necessary quarantine and social distancing measures for COVID-19 have a significant cost, particularly in older individuals who have suffered acute, severe social isolation and loneliness, with potentially catastrophic mental and physical health effects. Loneliness and social isolation in Europe, the US and China were so prominent before the COVID 19 pandemic (10-40%) that it was labelled as a “behavioural epidemic.”
Loneliness is extremely harmful to one’s emotional and physical wellbeing. Physically, loneliness is linked to high systolic blood pressure and an increased risk of heart disease and inclusive of social isolation, it has been connected with the increased risk of coronary artery death in middle-aged adults without a prior history of myocardial infarction. Loneliness can have an unintended impact on many aspects of one’s life. It has been connected to a variety of mental health concerns that have an impact on many aspects of one’s life.
- Reduced sleep efficiency.
- Increased wake time after sleep.
- Increased depressive symptomatology.
- Poor self-rated health.
- Impaired functional status.
- A perceived decrease in the quality of one’s life.
- Suicide attempts and completed suicides (both).
For social isolation, the mechanism may be related to behavioural changes, including an unhealthy lifestyle (such as smoking, alcohol consumption, lower physical activity, poor dietary choices and noncompliance with medical prescription).
Loneliness, including depressive symptoms, has been linked to a deterioration of cognition over time. Loneliness and social isolation are found to be strongly related to incident dementia. These issues are aggravated by individuals who tend to have a smaller social network and less medical help. Recognizing and better understanding these potential pathways could aid us in generating the most effective interventions and therapies.
What all can one do to avoid feeling lonely?
Limiting to the social norms of distancing, volunteering and interacting socially is a bit difficult in the current world of COVID-19. There are recognized methods for maintaining emotions of connectedness to people while maintaining social distance. We might become more resistant to the onset of emotions of loneliness by arranging our activities daily.
- Family: Before the pandemic, some family members may have been distracted by work and school commitments. They may now have more time at home and greater flexibility to connect with loved ones.
- Through the online world: Online video chat is easier to use and conveys nonverbal cues so that people can feel more engaged. Conversations with a regular schedule through online or phone services with loved ones can be helpful. Older adults may not be as familiar with new technologies such as Facebook, Skype, Twitter, LINE, and Instagram, you can help them by arranging a video chat or a virtual meeting so that they can connect with their friends, relatives and close ones to feel connected.
- Planning your day: In terms of planning your day, one can surround themselves with little activities which revolve around hobbies or practising yoga or making a delish dish in the kitchen. This will allow you to make better use of your energy and time.
- Paying extra attention to those who have mental illnesses: People with pre-existing psychiatric problems, as well as their family members, should pay close attention to their mental health and follow key guidelines to avoid symptoms worsening. Medical attention should always be sought, when necessary, especially when suicidal thoughts are expressed. Government agencies, social service groups, and healthcare providers should explore providing online psychological services (or, at the very least, phone services) to psychogeriatric patients who require medical guidance.
The worldwide pandemic of COVID-19 has to forefront a pre-existing hazard to people’s well-being: social isolation and loneliness. Adopting suitable measures to preserve social and familial connections, maintain healthy activities, and regulate emotions and mental symptoms can help alleviate the negative effects of loneliness and isolation. We may make use of this opportunity to commit to solving these terrible aspects of life for older individuals in the post-pandemic period, such as creating virtual health care, new technologies, and government policies.
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