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!