Lockdown & Corona: What is the impact of Lockdown on Loneliness and social isolation?

lonely man in the forest walking on a path

Social isolation is everyday life for many people. Be it elderly people whose children and grandchildren live all over the world and whose friends may have died or people for whom the outside world brings many dangers or feelings of discomfort. Through the lockdown caused by the coronavirus, social isolation suddenly hits us all. We all have to cope with it whether we like it or not. Some people cope better with the state of being alone, others rather worse. Often, but not always, this social isolation leads to feelings of loneliness. 

Wait a minute – what is the difference between loneliness and social isolation?  

Social isolation describes the objective state of being alone, the isolation from social life. But those who are socially isolated are not necessarily lonely. Because some people like social isolation. Loneliness, on the other hand, includes the discrepancy between the desired and the actually existing social relationships. Loneliness is a subjective feeling that arises when there is a difference between our desired and actual relationships, such as the desire for more frequent or more intense relationships. Loneliness is associated with an inner emptiness and with unpleasant or disturbing feelings of not being loved or understood. It can occur at any time even without social isolation. For example, we can feel lonely when we have many people around us because the people around do not match our desired relationships which we need to feel loved and understood.

Is loneliness increased by the Corona Pandemic?

The lockdown due to the corona pandemic encourages loneliness, because for many people the lockdown creates both social isolation and a discrepancy between the desired and actual social relationships. Especially in this dark time of year, many people want to have a get-together with friends, visit a Christmas market, play games or have a family party. All of this is not possible for us in a state of emergency, and as a result, loneliness increases – even for those who do not feel lonely in everyday life. According to a study, the values of loneliness are particularly high in winter and spring, so that not only the social isolation caused by the lockdown but also the season plays a role in an increase in loneliness.

Empirical evidence: What are the mental and physical effects of loneliness?

According to many studies, loneliness has both psychological and physical consequences.

The feeling of loneliness or social isolation is associated with impaired immune functioning and higher blood pressure. In addition, according to a study by Valtora and colleagues (2015), poor social relationships increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke by approximately 30%. Further, loneliness is associated with more health-endangering behaviors, such as smoking and a lack of exercise. Loneliness also seems to play an important role in the experience of depression and excessive alcohol consumption. Moreover, loneliness is related to experienced stress and sleep disorders. These findings show that loneliness can have serious consequences and that it makes sense to work on your own loneliness. 

10 tips to reduce loneliness in times of coronavirus

  • Reflect. What kind of relationship would you like to have? What do you expect from others and what can you bring to a relationship yourself? Who did you have a good time with and who would you like to contact again? Freshen up old contacts and approach the people you want to spend time with.
  • Maintain your contacts. Even if it is difficult, contacts have to be maintained. Just as we like to be cared for, so will others. With small gestures, you can make others happy, even if it’s just to listen and give them space to talk. In good relationships, you always have to invest something yourself.
  • Select. If it is difficult for you to maintain contacts, then select. Rather maintain few, but important and more intensive contacts. 
  • Be creative. Find out what creative possibilities there are for spending time together: Telephone calls, writing messages and letters, walks together and outside activities are only a few suggestions of many possibilities. You will surely find more. Hard times weld us together, they do not drive us apart. Instead of getting upset about conditions that are given, you should make the best of it and be creative. What ideas do you have to spend time with others?
  • Give others more attention. If you show other people an honest interest and give them attention, they will also give you attention in return. Maybe not every time, maybe not always, but mostly and more often. If you consciously pay attention to it, you will notice. Also, your focus will be shifted away from your loneliness to the well-being of another person.
  • Find others who are on the same wavelength as you. People have never been as connected as today. We have the opportunity to meet people around the clock, worldwide and we are no longer limited to our neighborhood or village. On the Internet, there are many opportunities to find people with similar interests, hobbies or values, whether in online communities or forums. This makes it easier to find people with whom we have something in common and forms a natural basis for starting a friendship. 
  • Learn something new. We are all able to learn lifelong – no matter if it is a new language, an instrument, a sport, or learning how to draw. Find out what you would like to learn. This way you will have the excitement of the new, small feelings of success, you will become active and you will have less time to give in to feelings of loneliness.
  • Find time for things that you have wanted to do again for a long time. Try to make homemade gifts, writing a letter or painting the bedroom. Thereby, you become active and do the things that have been buzzing in your head for a long time but for which you never had time. The completion process gives you a sense of achievement.
  • Take care of a pet. Animals can also reduce our loneliness. If you don’t have a pet, you might want to take your neighbor’s dog for a walk. In this way, you not only develop a relationship with an animal but also with your neighbors. 

Help others. Whether it is grocery shopping for your grandmother, a neighbor or donating to a charity organisation. Do something for someone else and focus on giving. Helping gives us a good feeling and connects us with other people. We can help at any time; we just have to open our eyes and be more aware of where we can help.

Self-care challenge

What are your best tips for dealing with loneliness? 

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References (click to expand)

Ben-Zur, H. (2018). The Association of Mastery With Loneliness. Journal of Individual Differences.

Cacioppo, J. T., Hawkley, L. C., & Berntson, G. G. (2003). The anatomy of loneliness. Current directions in psychological science, 12(3), 71-74.

Dittmann, J., & Goebel, J. (2010). Your house, your car, your education: The socioeconomic situation of the neighborhood and its impact on life satisfaction in Germany. Social Indicators Research, 96(3), 497-513.

Hagerty, B. M., & Williams, A. (1999). The effects of sense of belonging, social support, conflict, and loneliness on depression. Nursing research, 48(4), 215-219.

Hakulinen, C., Pulkki-Råback, L., Virtanen, M., Jokela, M., Kivimäki, M., & Elovainio, M. (2018). Social isolation and loneliness as risk factors for myocardial infarction, stroke and mortality: UK Biobank cohort study of 479 054 men and women. Heart, 104(18), 1536-1542.

Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T. B., Baker, M., Harris, T., & Stephenson, D. (2015). Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for mortality: a meta-analytic review. Perspectives on psychological science, 10(2), 227-237.

Huber, G., Broocks, A., & Meyer, T. (2008). Bewegung und seelische Gesundheit. Psychother Dialog, 9, 357-364.

Luhmann, M., & Hawkley, L. C. (2016). Age differences in loneliness from late adolescence to oldest old age. Developmental psychology, 52(6), 943.

Uchino, B. N. (2006). Social support and health: a review of physiological processes potentially underlying links to disease outcomes. Journal of behavioral medicine, 29(4), 377-387.

Valtorta, N. K., Kanaan, M., Gilbody, S., Ronzi, S., & Hanratty, B. (2016). Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for coronary heart disease and stroke: systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal observational studies. Heart, 102(13), 1009-1016.

West, D. A., Kellner, R., & Moore-West, M. (1986). The effects of loneliness: a review of the literature. Comprehensive psychiatry, 27(4), 351-363.

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