A few years ago I drove 300 miles in one day, interviewed for four hours, then drove 300 miles back home. Perhaps I spent the night in a hotel somewhere in between, but my main memory is hours alone on the interstate staring at white lines and lanes. Drained and anxious after months of unemployment, the added stress of being alone on this long trip made me see that connections help burnout recovery.
As I drove for hours I was alone in my little world, disconnected from those around me except for occasional honks when another driver did not appreciate my driving skill!
Is your life ever like that? Full speed ahead without much interaction with other people? To me it seems like the quarantines and isolation from COVID-19 built habits of solitude and separation that still remain. How about you? How did the pandemic change you?
Health Risks from Isolation
When I wrote “De-Stress Your Life: Turn Chaos Into Calm” http://bit.ly/DeStressbook I devoted an entire chapter to the importance of our connections with other people. I felt compelled to do so, after reading conclusions drawn from a big study started in California in the 1960’s called the Alameda County Study. In years of follow up researchers tracked associations between the amount of social interactions in one’s neighborhood with mortality rates. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10342798/
Mortality risks were significantly higher in neighborhoods with a low social interactions, even after adjustments for individual income, education, race/ethnicity, smoking, obesity, and alcohol consumption. Think about this: lack of social interaction was associated with more risk for death, regardless of other factors like smoking or obesity!
Gulp. Having close connections with other people is as good for me as not smoking?
Do you have any examples of traveling alone in a lane in your life? Here are a few you might want to think about:
- Binge watching a make-believe story instead of calling a friend to check in
- Working out alone rather than running, walking, or biking with a group
- Dropping out of church, professional organizations, or neighborhood committees
- Filling your mind with social media, podcasts, and music (I have no problem with these in moderation) to the exclusion of time to meditate, think, and journal. The latter habits allow you to connect with yourself. I wrote about the health benefits of journaling in this blog https://deborahrankinrd.com/journaling-for-weight-loss/
- Keeping a hectic pace that pushes out time for exercise, sleep, and eating well
Loneliness is an epidemic of our times that contributes to burnout and seems to be every bit as dangerous as COVID-19. Recent research indicates the group hardest hit are teenagers and young adults. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2021/02/young-adults-teens-loneliness-mental-health-coronavirus-covid-pandemic/ I understand, wondering what my emotional state would have been like if I hadn’t been able to enjoy experiences like high school prom, graduation parties, senior trips, summer jobs working with friends, years of college dorm life.
How to Deal With Loneliness
I’m not an expert on this, and still struggle. However I’ve discovered a few things that work for me, and share in hopes they benefit you.
- Volunteering might help others, but probably helps the volunteer most. This year I did two hours a week as a reading assistant at my granddaughters’ school. It was fun, and I gained immense appreciation and respect for teachers.
- Build a habit of reaching out to other lonely people on a regular basis. Consistency comforts. When the pandemic started I fell into the habit of calling an aunt who is 84 years old and lives alone every Saturday afternoon, just to check in and make sure she was OK. Now it’s a ritual we both look forward to.
- Zoom is exhausting and draining when you have to do it all day for work. Zoom with personal connections can be refreshing. For two years now I’ve enjoyed Zoom calls every other week with two groups of colleagues I met with in person before the pandemic. One is a writers’ critique group, the other an entrepreneurial business mastermind. We have fun, we laugh, we help each other.
- Little interactions are just as important as deep conversations. Face to face contact from chatting with a neighbor over the fence, making small talk with the barista in a coffee shop, or asking a repairman about his vacation plans give warmth from human connection. One easy conversation starter is the next idea–get a pet!
- Stroking and talking to a pet eases depression, lowers blood pressure, and hastens recovery from illness. When I got my dog last year I made giant strides meeting people in my new neighborhood. I’m the lady who walks the black dog every day!
For over a year, we all made drastic changes in how we live. At this point it’s not clear what the future brings.
One thing I know: we need each other. We need to connect to keep healthy. Ample supportive connections help burnout recovery.
What will you do make that happen for you? If you have a teenager or a young adult in your circle, is there anything you do to ease their loneliness?
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