Managing isolation and loneliness

Since the declaration of COVID-19 as a global pandemic, many of us have been advised to stay home for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, some of us are in countries on lockdown.

stress

Loneliness can have a significant impact on both mental and physical health.

A long period of isolation may be a necessary measure for public health but it can also have a detrimental impact on your mental health. A sudden change in circumstances; indefinite isolation; information overload and panic; living alone or not having anyone to share your feelings with; and changes in work conditions can cause anxiety and feelings of loneliness.

Loneliness is defined as the anxious, depressed, or dysphoric mood that occurs as a result of isolation, and can also be defined as feeling lonely more than once a week. [1],[2] Everyone is at risk of feeling lonely, regardless of age or social contacts, but the people who are the most likely to feel lonely are the elderly, parents, people who live alone, people with disabilities or mental health conditions, and children who are in care, disabled, or experience neglect.[3],[4],[5],[6] However, loneliness is a phenomenon that is becoming prevalent in younger populations, with over 70% of millennials feeling lonely compared to 50% of baby boomers.[7]

Loneliness can have a significant impact on both mental and physical health. It has a significant negative impact on mental health overall, can worsen anxiety, and affect conditions such as depression.[8],[9],[10] Social isolation and loneliness are strongly associated with low fruit or vegetable intake, daily smoking, physical inactivity.[11] Prolonged bouts of loneliness have been found to be as detrimental to your health as smoking and worse than obesity.[12] It has also been found that loneliness increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and dementia.8,[13]

So what should you do if your mental health is suffering during self-isolation or quarantine? These are some ways to ensure you safeguard your emotional and mental wellbeing during a potentially extended period of being alone.

Change your mind frame

Having too much time to think can result in negative thought spirals that can be easy to get stuck into. Instead of focusing on the negatives of the situation, or criticising yourself and your life, think of the situation as an opportunity to refocus your attention to yourself. Evaluating all that you have and feeling grateful can significantly brighten your mood. Doing just one productive thing per day can result in an overall more positive attitude. You can get started on things you have putting off, reorganise your space, or start something you’ve always wanted to do.

Engage with nature

Try and maintain exposure with the outside world as much as possible, always within the limits your local government has set. Remaining connected to nature can help your mental wellbeing. Make the most of your balcony or garden if you have one. Alternatively, sit by your window and look outside or tend to houseplants to keep your mind engaged with nature. Whenever possible, open the windows and let fresh air into your living space.

Introduce new rituals

Even if you are working from home, you probably find yourself with more free time on your hands than before. This is the perfect opportunity to do something special or start something new. Journaling is an option that allows you to express your thoughts and feelings, giving you an emotional outlet. You can plan regular calls with people, or start painting. Other things you might want to try include listening to new podcasts, doing crafts, knitting, trying meditation, and cooking and baking using new recipes. These add to your everyday, prevent your routine from being mundane, and give you something to look forward to.

Stay connected

When self-isolating, it is important to not lose contact with people and to keep your personal daily routines. Frequently speaking to friends and family is key to keeping feelings of loneliness at bay. Speaking to people you trust can also help you feel better when you feel that you may be struggling.

If you are lucky enough not to have experienced the feelings of loneliness, or have been there and come out the other side, have a quick flick through your contact list. When was the last time you spoke to your all your friends and family? Is there anyone you haven't heard from in a while? Why not give them a ring and catch up? Checking up on people has benefits for you as well – after all, you are expanding your own support network of people to check on you!

See Stress Differently

At Cigna, our work is rooted in our mission to improve the health, well-being and peace of mind of those we serve. Using cutting-edge technology and through our work partnering with doctors, technologists and artists, we have come up with a powerful new way to make the invisible visible. Introducing our stress care initiative - ‘See Stress Differently’.

Take our stress test

Our doctors have devised a short stress test, based on an established industry standard: the Perceived Stress Scale. The test only takes three-minutes to complete and you can take it here.

Be sure to share your test results with us on social media by using the tag #SeeStressDifferently.

For more information about See Stress Differently, please click here.

Sources:

[1] Loneliness – Definition. The Free Dictionary. https://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/loneliness. Accessed 14th April 2020.

[2] What is loneliness? The University of Chicago Medicine. https://www.uchicagomedicine.org/forefront/health-and-wellness-articles/what-is-loneliness. Accessed 14th April 2020.

[3] Housing America’s older adults. Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies. https://www.jchs.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/Harvard_JCHS_Housing_Americas_Older_Adults_2018_1.pdf. 2018. Accessed 14th April 2020.

[4] Five commitments to put disabled people at the heart of the general election. Sense. https://blog.sense.org.uk/2017/05/five-commitments-to-put-disabled-people-at-the-heart-of-the-general-election/. Published 9th May 2017. Accessed 14th April 2020.

[5] It starts with hello. Action for children. https://www.actionforchildren.org.uk/media/9724/action_for_children_it_starts_with_hello_report__november_2017_lowres.pdf. Published November 2017. Accessed 14th April 2020.

[6] Loneliness – an unequally shared burden in Europe. European Commission Joint Research Centre. https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/sites/jrcsh/files/fairness_pb2018_loneliness_jrc_i1.pdf. 2018. Accessed 14th April 2020.

[7] Loneliness and the workplace. Cigna. https://www.cigna.com/static/www-cigna-com/docs/about-us/newsroom/studies-and-reports/combatting-loneliness/cigna-2020-loneliness-factsheet.pdf. 2020. Accessed 14th April 2020.

[8] Leigh-Hunt N, Bagguley D, Bash K, Turner V, Turnbull S, Valtorta N, Caan W. An overview of systematic reviews on the public health consequences of social isolation and loneliness. Public Health. 2017 Nov 1;152:157-71. doi: 10.1016/j.puhe.2017.07.035.

[9] Erzen E, Çikrikci Ö. The effect of loneliness on depression: A meta-analysis. International Journal of Social Psychiatry. 2018 Aug;64(5):427-35. doi: 10.1177/0020764018776349.

[10] China’s Next Challenge. Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. https://www.globalhealthnow.org/2020-04/chinas-next-challenge. Published 2nd April 2020. Accessed 14th April 2020.

[11] Algren MH, Ekholm O, Nielsen L, Ersbøll AK, Bak CK, Andersen PT. Social isolation, loneliness, socioeconomic status, and health-risk behaviour in deprived neighbourhoods in Denmark: A cross-sectional study. SSM-population health. 2020 Apr 1;10:100546. doi: 10.1016/j.ssmph.2020.100546.

[12] Holt-Lunstad J, Smith TB, Layton JB. Social relationships and mortality risk: a meta-analytic review. PLoS med. 2010 Jul 27;7(7):e1000316. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1000316.

[13] Valtorta NK, Kanaan M, Gilbody S, Ronzi S, Hanratty B. Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for coronary heart disease and stroke: systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal observational studies. Heart. 2016 Jul 1;102(13):1009-16. doi: 10.1136/heartjnl-2015-308790.

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This document serves only as a reference and is intended for informational purposes only. The content of this document is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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