The Impact of Loneliness
Loneliness is one of the most powerful emotions we can experience. As humans, we are not made to live in isolation for extended periods of time. Yet, for many of us, COVID has forced us to reduce our social contact to the point that we may be only interacting with those we live with. And, if you live alone, it may mean that you are isolated, altogether.
All of us become frustrated at times in dealing with other people, especially those with whom we live or work. However, one thing that has become clear during the pandemic is that we actually need human interaction in order to maintain good mental health.
The reason this is true is that our perception of ourselves is strongly tied to the feedback we receive from others. Some of these interactions may be verbal, but many are not.
It can be the little positive affirmations we receive from a greeting or smile while passing in a hallway, someone saying “How was your day?”, or “That’s a good idea!”, or simply, “Thank you.” It may be the acknowledgement of having someone hold a door open for you, or just the politeness of someone ringing you up at the cash register. Each of these goes much farther than we realize in confirming our worth as a person, the value of our ideas, and the contribution we make in the lives of others.
A strange thing happens during extended isolation: We begin to question ourselves. Over time, we begin to question more and more aspects of ourselves, even aspects that we have always assumed were well-grounded.
When we are alone for extended periods, we can begin to dwell on unhealthy, anxious thoughts that can cause us to question whether we are important to anyone and whether our life has any real meaning. It is the regular interactions with others that give our lives that meaning.
These effects are magnified even further if you are the kind of person who already has a predisposition towards feelings anxious, depressed, or low self-confidence. That is why it is so important that we make efforts to stay socially engaged. While there is some value to using social media for this, so much of the human interaction of facial expression, tone of voice, and body language is lost with social media.
Phone calls, virtual visits and socially-distanced events with friends and family are all important in maintaining our mental health. Maybe someday we will be able to once again add physical contact, as well. We need it!
Larry Deavers is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker & Executive Director of Family Counseling Service of West Alabama.