Monday, April 6, 2020


By Mary Kennedy                                 

I'm tackling a serious topic today. (I promise I'll go back to funny anecdotes next week.)

In the immortal words of Elvis Presley, "Are you lonesome tonight?" The "new normal" of social distancing and forced isolation brings home the fact that many of us are desperately lonesome. As social creatures. we're bound to be lonely when deprived of human companionship. That's a given. As the theme song to Cheers reminds us, we long for "a place where everyone knows your name."

Living alone is a relatively new phenomenon. More than one in four people live alone in our country, yet in the early 1900's, only five percent of people lived alone. Why was that?  Well, it was a different time. The nuclear family didn't exist as we know it; most families were multi-generational. You didn't have to worry about being alone when you shared meals and living space with your relatives plus probably some young children in the mix. Life may have been noisy and hectic, but it wasn't lonely. I'm pretty sure that our grandparents weren't lonely. (They may have longed for their own bathroom, but they weren't lonely!)

Doctors at UCLA devised a "loneliness scale." Would you say yes to these statements?

I have nobody to talk to.
I cannot tolerate being so alone.
I am unhappy doing things alone.
I feel isolated from others.

As a psychologist, I know that many of my patients experience anxiety and even panic when they suddenly find their lives uprooted and become "singletons." Solitude and seclusion can be joyous, but loneliness is a state of emotional distress.

The flight or fight syndrome is common with loneliness.  More common than you may think. From an evolutionary point of view, being alone is associated with danger and unknown threats. Think about it. Would you rather fight an enemy alone, or in a group? Separation anxiety is real and can occur at any age.                                             

Theresa May created the first "Director of Loneliness" post in the UK, declaring loneliness to be a serious health problem. GP's (primary care practitioners) will be able to direct lonely patients to social activities and welcoming groups.

So, if you're feeling "lonesome tonight" as Elvis sang, how can you tackle the problem?

*Get a pet. Either adopt or foster. Animal shelters are in dire shape even in the best of times and the virus has hit them hard. 

*Reach out to someone else who may be lonely.

*Keep up your connections as best you can with Facetime, Skype, texting and social media.

*Stay engaged with life, whether it's long walks, a great book or a hobby you've always wanted to try.  Binge-watching TV isn't a panacea.

Wishing you the best during these trying times!
Mary Kennedy


Diane said...

AS an only child and now 83, I seem to manage to find things to do and there is always the telephone and a book to read. I must say that now, after having my pet cat put to sleep 2 weeks ago, I do feel alone. My son and family live an hour away so I don't want them coming here now. I don't want another pet at my age but I plan to buy a nice, soft stuffed cat to sleep with me after all this is over. I do so miss my Bessie. Life goes on and we will get through this with God's help and love. BTW, my apartment is starting to look really good. Shredding a lot of old papers and just moving things around helps. Also cleaning out the closets. Stay safe and be well.

Dr. Mary Kennedy said...

Hi Diane, I am so sorry to hear about Bessie. It is a huge loss and coming at a terrible time for you. Our pets bring so much joy and comfort into our lives and I know Bessie was a big part of your life. Would you consider opening your heart and your home to a foster cat, with the understanding that the shelter would re-home her if you were no longer unable to care for her? There are so many senior cats that have spent years in cages, waiting for a loving home. They would be so happy to have someone love them during their final weeks or months and it might be just the right choice for you. I'd think about it. The shelter would provide food, vet visits, etc and all you would have to do is supply the love! Wishing you all the best and thanks for stopping by, Mary PS I'm sure Bessie had a wonderful life with you and I hope that will bring you some comfort.

Diane said...

Thank you, Mary. I will think about it. I'm afraid I would get too attached to another one. Bessie was 21 years old and I got her at about 3 or 6 months whenever the vet gave her to me. She was dropped off there with her 3 sisters and mother, in a box at their door.

Dr. Mary Kennedy said...

I think you will miss have a warm, furry little presence in the house, Diane. See how you're feeling when all this settles down. There might be a sweet little senior cat out there waiting for you!

Robyn K said...

Thank you for sharing. Fur babies are the best. I wish I could adopt them all.

Dr. Mary Kennedy said...

Hi Robyn, I feel the same way! I look at the sweet little faces in the shelter pictures and would like to take them all home with me.