Hey, Eeyore, I'm lonely, too.
Updated: Dec 12, 2021
The pandemic has hit hard on everyone and socially distancing and isolating has perhaps made you feel lonelier than you have ever felt. But now that things are opening up again and you have been vaccinated (or not - I'm not here to judge, but wear a mask), you're starting to see you're friends and family again. However, for those that have social anxiety and depression, feeling lonely in a crowded room or with their friends is all too real. Even though you may get to go out and spend time with your friends and family again, you or your friend that has social anxiety or depression (or both) may feel just as lonely or perhaps even lonelier out in your social group having an adventure. Here's where the real trouble comes into play, those that feel lonely are at higher risk for higher blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, weakened immune system, anxiety, sleep disorders, Type 2 diabetes, substance use, depression (if they aren't already suffering from depression), cognitive decline, Alzheimer's disease, and early death (especially from suicide). There is a 4 times increased risk of death from heart disease, 68% risk of hospitalization, and 57% increased risk of emergency department visits. Individuals in your life that have substance use disorders, depression, bipolar, serious illnesses, autism spectrum disorder, dementia, Alzheimer's, or may have problems with their sexual orientation or their gender identity are more at risk for feeling chronically lonely. Loneliness wears many faces and it can take the most obvious form but it can also take the face of restlessness and irritability, mental fogginess, low energy, self-doubt, changes in appetite or sleep patterns, and aches and pains. Since it is so similar to depression and the two often go hand in hand it is difficult to discern which is which most of the time. Those that feel like they are unable to identify with or talk to anyone about what they are going through often feel isolated and lonely despite having people in their lives, they may keep people at surface level and often do not clue in those in their lives about anything deep in their lives as they may not think that they will understand, that they can handle it, or they may not want to put that pressure on their friends and loved ones. Individuals suffering from depression or chronic pain often suffer in silence and feel alone in their misery. Checking in on friends and family to see how they are doing emotionally and physically to give them the option to talk about how they are feeling. Make sure that you are open to listening to how they are doing and actively listen if they choose to open up so that if they struggle in the future they know that they can come to you. Remember that healthy friendships and relationships of all kinds are two-way streets and that if you are there for them, they will be there for you as well. Chronic loneliness has lasted much longer than the pandemic and although many of you have gotten a taste of what social isolation and loneliness have felt like over the last 17 months, you have begun to return to your relationships and seeing the "real" world to help smother out that feeling. While those that suffer from these mental and physical symptoms do not have the quick fixes to be able to solve their loneliness, loved ones can help by being a listening ear and letting them know that they care and will be more than "surface level" conversationalists. If your loved one is suffering from suicidal ideation and you think they are a danger to themselves please call the hotline 1-800-273-8255, 911, or take them to the local emergency room.
Social isolation, loneliness in older people pose health risks | National Institute on Aging (nih.gov)
Loneliness and Social Isolation Linked to Serious Health Conditions (cdc.gov)
Loneliness and Depression: Is There a Link? (healthline.com)