Loneliness: Connecting with others during difficult times

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We can’t be around each other but we can be with each other. Before the pandemic, loneliness was emerging as a health hazard due to its impact on people’s emotional and physical health. How do we beat loneliness during the pandemic? Loneliness now rivals the impact of smoking which is a hard pill to swallow. Especially if you are lonely and you smoke.

We all need to belong, don’t we? The same part of our brain that is activated by physical pain is activated during feelings of social rejection. That feeling you get in the pit of your stomach is your body acknowledging your response to not hearing back from loved ones or even falling out with a close friend. That feeling can also be your way of realising that maybe it is time to reach out. When we can tend to our urge to connect we are alleviating pain. Another thing that fascinated me about loneliness is that emotional loneliness has a worse impact on you than social loneliness. I guess this is the difference between the quantity and quality of our relationships. We may be frequently meeting others but if we are unable to share our emotions or meaningful experiences it could be detrimental to our health. This means that even though we are physically apart during these chaotic times, we can grow our emotional connection.

There are still opportunities to laugh, cry and grow together through the chaos. We can look at this as a chance to connect with those around us through love, respect, kindness and dignity.

Michael Marmot put it this way: “If the major determinants of health are social, so must be the remedies.”

If our health is negatively impacted through a loss of close loved ones or an inability to feel understood, we can be nurtured through talking about our difficulties with someone we trust. There are so many ways to turn our urge to connect into a positive experience. I love the Ubuntu philosophy. The name comes from the Bantu language and its teachings promote love, peace and the building of communities. Ubuntu advocates for a community where those in it participate and share with those inside and outside of their tribe. They view their loved ones’ pain as their pain. Their motto is, “together we are one”. Therefore, when you heal, we heal. Ubuntu looks at what makes you human and this can only be enhanced through your relationship with others.

Being open to connection and taking a few social risks start with your ability to express compassion. You can start at looking at how you can provide empathy and care to yourself (first) and others by asking them how they are. Remember to let those close to you know that you are grateful for them. Create a supportive network like a group chat. We all know those online quizzes will soon be coming back again. Maybe, who knows. Remember, all you need is shared experiences and a sense of belonging. Who’s in your tribe?

By Nicole Grilo

Originally published on 10th November 2020 on the Counselling Directory

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