The Danger of Loneliness in the Time of the Coronavirus

Loneliness can increase the chances of illness and death.

BY Rick Bursky
Mar.29,2020 / UPDATED ON MAY.08,2020

You live alone. You haven’t left your house in days, haven’t seen anyone who wasn’t on a screen. And the last time you left was to go to the supermarket and that was so you can hear the sound of another human being walking. Now that the majority of Americans are quarantined, it’s time to talk about loneliness. It’s also important to point out, you can live with someone, be married, and still be lonely. Of course, the urge to be glib is overwhelming, so we’re going to quote Chekhov, “if you are afraid of loneliness, do not marry.” Back to the seriousness of our topic. 

There are four primary types of loneliness:

Social Loneliness

This is the sort of loneliness that is probably victimizing millions of us during the quarantine. We experience this because we’re missing a more extensive social network. During stressful times, that this coronavirus quarantine certainly is, many people are missing the connection to the family and friends that they would typically reply on when in distress. 

Emotional loneliness

The need for deep, nurturing relationships with other people is a basic human need. People require deep attachments, which can sometimes be fulfilled by close friends, but much more often by close family members such as parents, and later in life by romantic partners. A 2019 study in Psychosomatic Medicine, A Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine, found that emotional loneliness significantly increased the likelihood of death for older adults living alone. If you know someone older who lives alone, please call them. Annie Dillard said, “the surest sign of age is loneliness.”

Family loneliness

You can have a large family and still feel lonely. People suffer from family loneliness because when they feel they lack close ties with family members. A 2010 study of 1,009 students found that only family loneliness was associated with increased frequency of self-harm, not romantic or social loneliness.

Romantic loneliness

Oh, how we love being in love. There’s nothing like the feeling of being loved, being the most important person in another’s life. People in romantic relationships report less loneliness than single people, providing their relationship provides them with emotional intimacy. People in unstable or emotionally cold romantic partnerships can still feel romantic loneliness. 


Now let’s talk about how much worse the situation is when it comes to loneliness. 

People are getting sick. People are dying. The next person could be someone you love. The next person could be you. If you’re not terribly concerned about that (which means there might be something wrong with you), the economy is tanking. Your retirement savings are disappearing. You could be close to losing your job, and God knows where you’ll find another one while the entire known universe is quarantined. The coronavirus has come along and kicked the world in the balls. Now, on top of all that add the feeling of terrible loneliness, the sort of feeling that can have you balled-up in a corner trying to think of someone to call, someone who might want to hear from you. How wonderful it would be for a person to in that spot to have their phone ring and hear a friendly voice. This is the time when we all have to be there for each other. So, once again, we’re going to say — pick up the phone and call someone. Call someone you haven’t spoken to in a long time. If you can’t find a phone number for someone you want to call, try, we were able to find contact info for some old friends there.

There is a clear difference between loneliness and social isolation. You could be alone and not feel lonely. Solitude can actually be good for some people. But that’s not the topic here. We might write about solitude another time, on second thought, we probably won’t. 

If you’re starting to feel lonely, there are some things you can do during this quarantine that might help:

Get online and be active, not merely surfing the net or your social media. Do things that involve others: games, video chats, etc. The more you connect with others while online, the less lonely you’ll feel. So get online and share. We mean really share and not the sort of sharing that social media has previously depended on. Talk about things that are important to the people that are important to you.

Tend to your network. You can feel alone even though you’re connected to many people. So it helps to reach out to these people and schedule times to catch up. Who knows, maybe an old friendship can be reignited. 

Join an online group. You can now find people online with just about any interest — for example, cooking, urban sketching, politics, sports — anything. Joining one of these mission-oriented groups can be a way to feel more connected to others, even when you don’t have access to face-to-face interactions. You might get to know some new people or make lifelong friends.

Stop thinking so much about yourself and what you don’t have. In today’s technology-crazed world, it’s easy to believe we don’t have enough. Someone bought got a new car, someone else, a new house, or a new job. This sort of thinking can harm your self-worth and make you want to withdraw even more.

Stop your negative thoughts. Don’t spend time wondering about what you could have done differently to prevent yourself from feeling alone. It does us no good. To put an end to these thought cycles, doing something different changes you experience the world. That can be tough right now, but we’re pretty sure taking a walk or going for a bike ride is still legal. 

There is a theme to the things we’re suggesting -- to reach out and connect to other people. The coronavirus isn’t the only thing that kills. Loneliness kills. People with good social relationships have a 50% greater chance of survival compared to lonely people. The dangers of loneliness are real. Loneliness and smoking fifteen cigarettes a day have an equivalent effect on your health. Joss Whedon was spot on when he said, “loneliness is about the scariest thing out there.”

Right now, we're all afraid of the coronavirus, at least, most of us are. But let's not forget, something else is probably going to kill you. To see a list of things that you should more realistically be afraid of click here. 

MAY 8, 2020 UPDATE

As many as 75,000 Americans could die because of drug or alcohol misuse and suicide as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, according to an analysis conducted by the national public health group Well Being Trust. The pandemic’s growing unemployment crisis, economic downturns, and stress caused by isolation and lack of a definitive end date for the pandemic could significantly increase the so-called “deaths of despair” unless local, state, and federal authorities take action, the group says in a new report released Friday.

Keywords: coronavirusquarantinelonelinessfeeling lonely social isolationtypes of loneliness
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