Here’s What Loneliness Can Do To You During COVID-19

Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash


“The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald


Loneliness is never easy to endure, yet during times of mandatory social isolation and distancing, such as millions of Americans are experiencing during the COVID-19 pandemic, it can be particularly damaging. Among its many effects, loneliness can exacerbate and bring upon a host of mental and physical conditions.

Social Isolation and Loneliness May Increase Inflammation

A study by researchers at the University of Surrey and Brunel University London found a potential link between social isolation and loneliness and increased inflammation. Although they said the evidence they looked at suggests that social isolation and inflammation may be linked, the results were less clear for a direct link between loneliness and inflammation. Researchers said both are linked with different inflammatory markers and that more studies are necessary to further understanding of how social isolation and loneliness contribute to poorer health outcomes.

What we do know about the stay-in-place recommendations during the COVID-19 pandemic is that those who live alone, or who may be infirm or sick and isolated from family members, may feel loneliness and being cut off from social contact more deeply. Many who suffer from comorbid conditions, may also experience an increase in inflammation.

Gene Expression May be Changed Through Loneliness

University of Chicago researchers found that loneliness triggers changes in gene expression, specifically leukocytes, the immune system cells that are involved in protecting the body from viruses and bacteria. Researchers found that chronically lonely people have an increased expression of genes that are involved with inflammation and a decreased expression of genes involved in antiviral response. Not only was loneliness and gene expression predictable a year or so later, but both were also apparently reciprocal, each being able in time to propagate the other.

It will be interesting to see results of studies conducted after the coronavirus pandemic abates somewhat to learn whether loneliness and gene expression are, indeed, reciprocal as well as what further associations between the two can be confirmed.

People With Dementia are at Higher Risk for Loneliness

A 2016 report from Alzheimer’s Australia found that people suffering from dementia and their caregivers are “significantly more lonely” than the general public and that their experience levels of loneliness are similar. Both those with dementia and their caregivers have smaller social circles and tend to see outsiders less frequently, although those with dementia are at even greater risk for loneliness due to diminished social contacts.

Since many individuals suffering from dementia, whether in nursing homes or being cared for by family members in their own residences, are more prone to loneliness than those who are not afflicted with the debilitating condition. Couple dementia with COVID-19 and the loneliness experienced may become overwhelming.

Loneliness Makes Managing Stress More Difficult

The stress associated with being quarantined for having or coming into contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19 is all too real for thousands of individuals. The stress of caring for a loved one or family member quarantined for the virus in no way diminishes personal stress being cooped up and responsible for caregiving during the homebound stay.

First-responders and healthcare professionals caring for seriously ill patients with COVID-19 is another prevalent situation today, one that causes an increase in stress levels and may precipitate a feeling of loneliness even during a time of intense workload. Finding ways to manage stress during this extraordinary and unprecedented worldwide phenomenon is much more difficult.

Besides the immediate stress, there’s also secondary traumatic stress that people experience, resulting in feelings of loneliness, guilt, exhaustion, fear, and withdrawal. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it’s important to actively seek out ways to cope with stress during COVID-19, taking good care of yourself, realizing that everyone responds differently to stress and to allow yourself time to recover after the direct threat is over.

Sleep Quality, Fatigue, Concentration and Indecisiveness Worsen With Loneliness

Research published in Lancet on the psychological impact of quarantine reported on a study that found of hospital staff who cared for or came into contact with those with SARS, being quarantined was itself most predictive of acute stress disorder. Furthermore, that same study found that quarantined individuals were more likely to report symptoms of irritability, indecisiveness, poor concentration, fatigue and exhaustion, and insomnia consistent with the loneliness and social isolation they felt during the quarantine.

Another study mentioned in the Lancet article cited the fact that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms were reported by hospital workers three years after quarantine, lending credence to the belief that loneliness and isolation can have long-lasting mental health consequences.

Those who are most at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic include those with compromised immune systems, underlying medical conditions, such as asthma, serious heart disease, obesity, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and liver disease. Older individuals and those confined to nursing homes or long-term care facilities are considered highly vulnerable to experiencing severe illness from coronavirus.

Loneliness Serves as a Contributing Factor in Substance Abuse

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the current COVID-19 pandemic may hit those with substance abuse “particularly hard.” In particular, those who regularly take opioids or have diagnosed opioid use disorder (OUD), or use methamphetamines, those who smoke tobacco, cannabis, or vape, can be at special risk for serious coronavirus complications to their lungs. Homelessness, being hospitalized and isolated or quarantined at home also elevate the risk of increased loneliness.

Furthermore, among the general public, even those not quarantined due to contracting the virus or caring for someone who has it, serious stress and caregiver fatigue may lead them to try coping with drugs or alcohol. An increase in impulsive behavior, engaging in risky activities as a coping mechanism to avoid painful feelings of loneliness, loss, financial devastation, and a diminished sense of hope for the future appears also increasingly tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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5 Ways to Let It Flow

Photo by Rachel Davis on Unsplash

Photo by Rachel Davis on Unsplash

“The mind is like a river, and, as with a river, there’s no point in trying to stop its flow.” – Mingyur Rinpoche


You know when you get into a groove, you just want to keep on going. You might say you’re “in the flow,” “going with the flow,” “in your sweet spot,” or some other catchy phrase.

It feels good.

You want it to continue.

Why don’t you let it?

The truth is that everyone is surrounded by distractions. Some of them are pesky and quickly swatted away, like a bug you don’t have time for yet keeps coming back. Others, however, are more beyond or out of your control, like your boss who suddenly interrupts your work with an urgent project. Don’t you just hate that?

Once you stop what you’re doing – and this is hard to do, by the way – it’s even harder to get back into the flow. Once again, most everyone can relate to this, some more than others. I know I’ve experienced this nuisance dozens of times in my corporate career.

Still, back to crux of the matter and what most of us want to know is, what can you do to allow the flow to continue while still tending to what must be done?

Interesting conundrum. While there aren’t any hard and fast answers, here are a few suggestions I’ve used with satisfactory results that may prove helpful:

Hit the pause button.

See if you can hit the pause button in your mind. Without completely disengaging, you might consider saying something to your boss like, “I’ll get to it as soon as I finish this document.” Be sure, however, to follow through on your stated commitment. Otherwise you risk getting into trouble with your boss.

Try going it alone.

Since many of us do our best work when we’re uninterrupted, make it a point to do your best work while you are alone. This is harder advice to follow, and it’s especially difficult in a busy office, corporate or otherwise. If you do have the flexibility to work on your own, perhaps by choosing different hours or working at an alternate location for certain projects, I encourage you to do so. When you’re more in control of where and when you work, you’re abler to go with the flow when you’re in the middle of it.

Commit to the moment.

Be in the moment. Instead of allowing thoughts of what you must do next, where you’re going for lunch, or replaying that argument you had last night with your spouse or partner or one of the kids, commit to being here and now. You’re busy working on something. That needs to take priority. You can devote time to those other items later, most likely with better clarity and attention, not to mention effectiveness. Keep in mind that when that time comes, be in the moment then as well for best results.

Eliminate distractions.

If you want to get things done, help yourself out by turning off the notification sounds and pop-ups for email on your computer. You don’t need to be a slave to these distractions. Even better, close out your email client until you’re finished with what you’re doing. Better yet, set specific times to check email, such as 9 a.m., right after lunch, 3 p.m. – and don’t be tempted to check it otherwise unless you’re expecting something to help you complete your current assignment.

Go quiet.

The adage that “silence is golden” is very apropos here. So, silence your phone. Similarly, avoid the temptation to pick up and answer or respond to texts that come in by shutting off your phone. At the very least, silence it. Your productivity will improve and so will your ability to let it flow. In fact, regularly disconnecting will also help reduce information overload.

If you need any more encouragement to let it flow, simply recall how good it felt in the past to be swept up in an activity or project so that the time just flew. That was being in the moment, fully immersed in what you were doing. Like the swiftly moving river, you just let it flow. You can do this.


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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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How to Beat the Post-Christmas Blues


Photo by Kate Williams/Unsplash

After all the wrapping paper, bows and decorations are put away, all the big holiday meals a thing of the past, and the thought of all the credit card bills coming due to pay for everything, if you’re feeling a bit low, you’re not alone. The post-Christmas blues affects everyone in different ways, but it does seem to be hard to escape.

It doesn’t have to linger, though, and here are some tips on how to put the post-Christmas blues behind you.

Take Everything Back at Once

Why torment yourself with thoughts of several days’ worth of trudging back to the store to use up gift cards, return or exchange unwanted, wrong size, color, design or whatever items after Christmas? Instead, get it all over at once by taking everything back on a single day. If this isn’t the day after Christmas when everyone else is doing the same thing, you’re likely to accomplish what you need and put that task behind you.

Spend Less Time on Social Media and More Face-to-Face with Friends

While social media makes it ever so easy to connect with friends, when you’re feeling blue after a big holiday like Christmas, it makes better sense to engage in real-time interaction with your pals than using Facebook, Twitter or some other social media network. Connecting this way also helps rid you of lingering disappointment that the holidays are over, creates tangible feelings of well-being, and reminds you that we’re all in this together.

Eat Better, Sleep Well and Exercise More

No doubt your diet suffered during the holidays along with getting less sleep than you should and foregoing the gym or your daily walk. Now that Christmas is over, it’s time to get back to your healthy routine – or begin one, if you haven’t before. Stop unhealthy snacking and gorging yourself like it’s your last meal (it’s not). Eat well-balanced, nutritious meals at appropriate times. Get a good 8 hours sleep each night, and remove electronic devices from the bedroom so they don’t tempt you to catch up on messages, emails, etc., and carve out at least 15-20 minutes daily for some sort of vigorous exercise. Even a short walk outside will help eradicate the post-Christmas blues.

Start a New Project

There’s nothing better to take your mind off what’s bothering you, including post-holiday sadness, than diving into a new project. Whether it’s repainting the living room, poring through catalogs for spring bulbs, creating plans for an addition, shopping for new appliances, doing research for a new or replacement vehicle, gathering information on going back to school, the process of involving yourself in a new project not only occupies your time, it also lifts your mood, gives you something to look forward to, and is a healthy way to live.

Stay Busy

Does it seem like there’s a void now that all the relatives and friends have gone, you’re back at work or left alone at home while others are off tending to everyday things? While the hours slowly grind away, there’s much too much time to sit around feeling sorry for yourself or allow sad thoughts to intrude even while you’re halfheartedly trying to work. Here the recommendation is to stay busy, to have another task or assignment or chore to go to on your to-do list. This way, there’s no down-time, no time to dwell on emotional lows. By staying busy, you’re being focused and acting. This passes the time and helps you be more productive, both of which can reduce feelings of sadness.

Be Grateful

When you wake up each morning, take a few minutes to reflect on all the things you’re grateful for in life. While you might automatically start to think about how sad you feel, acknowledge the emotion and then think how fortunate you are to be alive. Your troubles aren’t so great, no matter what they are, that you don’t have things to be grateful for. These include family, friends, a job, a home to live in, your health, and so on. Gratitude is one of the most effective ways to dispel the post-Christmas blues.

Do Something for Others

It doesn’t take much time out of your day, or much effort, for that matter, to do something for others. If you know of someone who’s ill and house-bound, for example, give them a call or stop by for a visit to help lift their spirits and give them the opportunity for real-time social interaction. Back to those unwanted, wrong size, color, etc. gifts, consider donating them to those in need. There are many individuals who won’t at all mind wearing an oversized shirt or ugly Christmas sweater or plaid pair of pants or hot pink sneakers. Both you and the recipient get something good out of it.

Plan Something Special

Another way to get your mind off being blue is to begin planning something special. This might be a night out with your loved one, a day at the spa to treat yourself, creating a romantic dinner or working on plans for summer vacation. When you’re planning, you’re being forward-thinking and taking concrete steps to make the plans reality.

Take a Short Trip

Why not get away for a while? Even a short trip, such as a day trip, can work wonders to drive away the blues and get you back on an even emotional state. A weekend trip might be more appropriate, but with holiday expenses eating up a chunk of the budget, a shorter day trip might better serve your purposes. Go with a friend or loved one to maximize your enjoyment of the excursion. You might even be able to use a gift card you received at Christmas.

Pursue an Interest

There must be something in your life you’ve put off, thinking you didn’t have the time, energy or resources to pursue. Maybe now is the perfect time to delve into that interest. See if there’s some way to make room for it in your life. Surely, if something is important to you, you’ve dreamt about it or had it on your wish list for some time, it’s worth taking a serious look at. Besides, this is an excellent way to jumpstart motivation, lift your spirits and put the post-Christmas blues in the past.

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Related articles:

5 Ways to Find Peace of Mind

Self-Care: The Most Important Person to Take Care of Is You

Are You Lonely Tonight? How to Combat Loneliness

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