There is a school of thought in the study of human behavior called Attachment Theory. Prominent thought leaders like John Bowlby and John Gottman, have found that human beings need healthy loving consistent relationships for healthy development and for our survival. It is in relationships humans learn important skills like managing their emotions, empathy, and thoughtfulness. It is not enough to have your basic needs provided for: we actually need love. Absent love our development is stunted. Researchers looking at the brains of children who have experienced neglect found that their brains can be smaller, less active. Some human beings even fail to thrive when the neglect is severe and sustained.
The World Health Organizations, CDC and national mental health organizations have all expressed significant concerns about the impact that physical distancing, sheltering in place, and other COVID restrictions on our mental health. Even before COVID, there were concerns about the adverse impact of loneliness on us. Loneliness linked with increased feelings of anxiety and depression.
Loneliness also impacts us physically, a study from Newcastle University found a connection between heart disease and strokes in socially isolated individuals. A study in The Journals of Gerontology found that loneliness was associated with a 40 percent increase in the risk of dementia. While we do not fully understand why, the CDC believes loneliness and isolation is a serious public health issue.
So, knowing that we need love and connection and accepting that for many connections and relationships can be challenging – what do we do?
First, I think we need to think about the people in our lives and communities who might be vulnerable to feeling socially isolated and/or lonely. Is there someone who has recently experienced a breakup, a loss of job, death, change in health status, been impacted by violence, or physically lives alone? If yes, could you reach out to them to offer comfort and care? You can do this virtually for safety reasons- don’t let COVID be an excuse. If virtual contacts aren’t your thing and you have Zoom fatigue, consider old school methods like phone calls, letters, and cards that say, “I’m thinking of you.’ When reaching remember the quality of the contact matters: for example, if you are calling someone, turn off the TV, don’t multi-task, and give the conversation your undivided attention. There are also online games and puzzles that you can play with others (virtual escape rooms, puzzles), there are software that allows you to watch movies, TV shows or concerts together and talk about them, you can form an informal book club, or simply arrange for a regular ‘virtual’ coffee or tea date. Be creative!
If, you are alone or sometimes feeling lonely, know that those feelings of wanting connection are healthy and normal. While it can be challenging to change your routine or habits, evaluate your life and think about where possible social connections might exist. For example, are there colleagues at work, friends of your children, or people in your faith community whom you know perhaps informally, but maybe you could reach out to for connection. Sometimes there are people in our lives who could be friends or closer acquaintances; but we do not reach out them because of our fears of rejection or assumptions that we make. However, if do a personal assessment sometimes you can find ways of connecting. Also consider joining and increasing your involvement in interest, professional, volunteer, prayer and/or support groups. You might also want to reach out to a mental or physical health provider and share your feelings with them. Frequently, they might have suggestions or can help you connect to community resources and support.
So, remember we are meant to love, and we all need love. So, smiling at your neighbor (even with your mask on), doing something thoughtful for someone else, and being open to connection makes a difference in your mental health and your feeling of being loved and connected to others.
Until next month! Stay well and do, be & live better!