Loneliness and Isolation – Negative Impact on Health

Before the pandemic, going to the office, taking a walk, getting some fresh air, being in contact with people were all things I took for granted. I never thought that one day this would no longer be. It was all part of my daily routine, making solitude and isolation impossible. Naturally, I would go to work or see my friends and family. Other people, with different routines, would go to the office or work out, and take a social life for granted. Being around people was the default — part of a daily routine – and it helped counteract isolation and loneliness. Since the pandemic, the government’s response to it has been unpredictable. We have no idea when we will be able to get together again with loved ones. Now is when we need to work to prevent loneliness and isolation detrimental to our health.

During this pandemic, Canadians and others are isolating themselves to save lives, however, the subject of health is not adequately addressed. Statistics show that one in five Canadians is lonely and physicians are worried.[1] At a recent Edmonton Social Summit: From Isolation to Connection, a speaker, Richard Lewanczuck, who works with Alberta Health Services, said that he believes social factors contribute to about 80% of a person’s health.

We’re trying to help people understand that health is determined by social and community circumstances, not only by the number of doctors and hospitals.

a quote from Richard Lewanczuck, Alberta Health Services.[2]

A study was conducted in the Edmonton area related to isolation. It was found that isolation, as opposed to illness, was the primary risk factor leading to hospitalization of seniors. In conducting the study, Dr. Lewanczuck shared a sad fact: “One in four seniors say they have no close friends and no one to turn to if they become ill.[3]

It is important to acknowledge that the isolation that is followed by a feeling of loneliness can be tangible. During the pandemic, these isolation-related effects will apply not only to seniors, but to the entire Canadian community. This means several repercussions concerning hormones, the immune system, cognition and mental health in general can be observed, says psychiatrist Marie-Josée Brouillette. We must be careful not to isolate ourselves socially, which affects our brain negatively.

Isolation can lead to depression and loss of appetite. Combined, these symptoms can lead to mild dementia and quickly progress to loss of reasoning and memory, contributing to Alzheimer’s disease. Isolation has been shown to be as dangerous to health as obesity, alcoholism or smoking. In addition to increasing the risk of dementia and cognitive decline by 60%, isolation is associated with higher levels of depression and suicide.[4]

People are beginning to hear the clock ticking. This vicious circle sees Canadians losing a sense of direction established over years: a routine of going to the office, of happy hour, of taking vacations. Now, people must find new hobbies, go out at different times, place phone calls to check in with others, join social networking groups with common interests, play games online with loved ones, and more. Covid-19 has destroyed routines built up over years. One must rebuild, reinvent oneself. It is exhausting, but it will promote companionship and banish isolation and solitude.

For people who now work from home, the space between bed and computer is not 20 metres. Before, with our routine, without realizing it, we had accumulated more or less 3 kilometres of walking, simply by going to work. We must continue taking care of ourselves despite this pandemic. It is vital. Here are 10 tips to help you avoid loneliness during isolation:

10 tips to combat loneliness:

  1. Be aware of your loneliness. Write down your thoughts and feelings and try to find the gaps in your social experience.
  2. Take a step back. Consider how our changing social structure promotes loneliness. Due to late marriage, divorce, relocation for work or school, some found themselves distraught. This is even more true now because of mandatory social distancing, and it is natural to feel increased loneliness if separated from family and friends. Make allowances for yourself and acknowledge that there is nothing wrong with you.
  3. Be socially creative with the changes caused by Covid-19. Finding new ways to work and maintain contact with others is essential. Schedule time to meet with family, friends and colleagues via phone calls, Skype, Face-to-Face, emails, texts, or even a good old-fashioned written letter! It’s the little things that count: sharing a joke, pictures or music.
  4. Make your relationships a priority. There is no substitute for developing and maintaining relationships, no matter how short (think a 10-minute conversation with a friend). Volunteering or joining a personal interest group (e.g., a gaming club or virtual book club) are all ways to socialize while social distancing.
  5. Make sleep a priority: Studies show that a good night’s sleep helps us with loneliness and better equips us to face the day.
  6. Make good use of your personal time. Just as contact with others is essential, it’s important to spend time alone to recharge the batteries, whether this means getting in touch with nature, engaging in hobbies, or practicing mindfulness, to feel comfortable and enjoy healthy solitude. In the era of Covid-19, we can plan how we want relationships to be once the pandemic ends. This is a time when we can dream, reflect, and plan, to optimize our relationships now and later.
  7. Practice relaxation: even if only for a few minutes per day, practicing breathing exercises, light stretching, yoga, meditation, keeping a journal, as well as other gentle activities will calm the body and mind.
  8. Exercise. Daily exercise, indoors or outdoors, improves physical, emotional and mental health by reducing loneliness and improving mood.
  9. Enjoy nature. Research shows that we are healthier when we are close to nature. If you can’t get outside, you can try doing some container gardening, or buy plants, herbs and flowers for your home.
  10. Be grateful. Taking stock and being grateful for the connections and relationships in our lives creates an open and trusting state of mind, making it easier to form new relationships.[5]

[1] https://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelle/1426292/isolement-solitude-effets-sante-nefaste-reseaux-sociaux

[2] https://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelle/1426292/isolement-solitude-effets-sante-nefaste-reseaux-sociaux

[3] https://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelle/1426292/isolement-solitude-effets-sante-nefaste-reseaux-sociaux

[4] https://ici.radio-canada.ca/ohdio/premiere/emissions/les-annees-lumiere/segments/entrevue/116515/science-bar-des-sciences-medecine-sante-isolement-solitude-est-elle-maladie

[5] https://lifespeak.com/fr/etre-seuls-ensembles-la-pandemie-sociale-quest-la-solitude-a-lere-de-la-covid-19/

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