Isolation is an effective and well proven infection control strategy. During an epidemic, the isolation and treatment of infected patients together with the quarantining of those who could have been infected represent the most effective control measures.
Unfortunately, it is also expected that if you isolate people long enough, they will go crazy.
We are social animals. Isolation is therefore stressful, and as any other stressor it has a negative impact on our health.
Mass isolation and quarantine can inflict significant social, psychological, and economic costs. Loneliness is recognized as being bad for someone’s well-being. Studies show that loneliness shortens life.[i] When we feel alone, we are more likely to experience anxiety, depression, irritability and stress. Newer research has also established that loneliness is bad for our heart, increases blood pressure, promotes obesity and weakens our immune system.[ii]
To make all of this worse, there is stigma associated with loneliness. We think that if we admit we are lonely, it means others do not want to be with us. Although we may be less reluctant to admit that we are lonely in a pandemic, the numbers are staggering. In Canada, prior to COVID-19, 1 in 5 Canadians reported feeling alone.
Social isolation of course is not the same as loneliness. Isolation is the physical separation from others, loneliness is the distressed feeling of being alone. It is possible to feel lonely while among other people, but also be alone yet not feel lonely.
There are some tools available to assess loneliness, the UCLA Loneliness Scale being one of the most popular.
How do we reduce isolation and prevent loneliness amidst COVID-19?
Connect in other ways. The best way to overcome loneliness is to cultivate your current relationships, or to form new ones.
Technology is often blamed for isolation because people spend too much time on social platforms and not enough time interacting with others. However, studies show that technology can also help reduce loneliness.[iii]
Check in with your tribe. Send short messages through text or email.
Call your family and friends, or even better use video chat. This is the perfect time to practice your social skills on technology. Studies show that videoconferencing helps to reduce loneliness in a family member who feels isolated.[iv]
Try to create new online friendships, join chat groups and forums on topics of interest to you.
When in doubt add some humour.[vii] Read a funny book or watch clips of your favorite comedian.
Reading can be particularly helpful. Books allow us to engage with a story and its characters which reduces loneliness.
Spending time constructively helps to reduce loneliness. Work on developing a new skill or absorb yourself in a leisure activity like creative writing or craftwork.[viii]
Exercise brings about a satisfying kind of tiredness. If you are anxious or depressed, try to schedule up to one hour of cardiovascular exercise per day. If you are in isolation you will need to exercise inside your house. Be creative but classics such as jumping jacks and burpees always work well.
Busyness can be viewed as an end in itself. Establish a routine for your work and exercise. Try to schedule one activity that you look forward to everyday.
Importantly, remember that although activities focused on productive engagement reduce loneliness, passive activities with no explicit goal or purpose such as TV watching, do not.[xi]
Above all, remember that the freedom to choose one’s attitude always remains.
[i] Holt-Lunstad et al, 017
[ii] Petitte T et al. 2015
[iii] Tsai et al. 2010
[iv] Tsai et al. 2010
[v] Creswell et al. 2012
[vi] Saito et al. 2012
[vii] Tse et al. 2010
[viii] Brown et al. 2004, Pettigrew & Roberts 2008, Tse 2010, Toepoel 2013, Heo et al. 20
[ix] Krause‐Parello 2012, Banks and Banks 2005. Banks and Banks 2008.
[xi] Howat et al. 2004, Pettigrew & Roberts 2008, Toepoel 2013
Dr. Ludovic Brunel graduated with a degree in Human Nutrition from McGill University in Montreal and pursued his studies in Naturopathic Medicine at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto.