oneliness and social isolation are twice as harmful to physical and mental health as obesity.
Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Ph.D., a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University, co-authored a meta-analysis on how loneliness and social isolation can affect one’s physical and mental health. She’s found out that people who feel excluded can have heightened health risks by as much as an equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day or having an alcohol use disorder. Prof. Julianne has also stated that loneliness and social isolation are twice as harmful as obesity.
Social connection is a fundamental human need—essential to our well-being, health, and sustaining a proper level of happiness, regardless of our social norms. As stated by Nadav Klein Ph.D. on Psychology Today, “slowing the spread of COVID-19 to prevent one public health crisis should not increase social isolation and thereby create another public health problem.” Mr. Nadav points our attention to a research paper that explores social connectedness as a source and consequence of meaning in life.
Physical distancing helps limit the spread of COVID-19. There’s no doubt about that. Social distancing, on the other hand, is a term that can send a wrong message and contribute to social isolation.
The American Psychological Association quotes an epidemiologist associated with Newcastle University—Nicole Valtorta, Ph.D.—who links loneliness to a 30 percent increase in the risk of stroke or development of coronary heart disease.
Distancing Helps. Isolation Hurts
We live in challenging times, and taking care of your psychological needs is just as important as making sure to decrease the chances of transmitting or contracting the virus.
A recent study on the effect of social distancing measured in highly infected countries shows that:
1. In most of the 10 countries, it took 1–4 weeks since the point of highest level of social distancing measures promulgation until the numbers of daily confirmed-cases and daily deaths showed signs of decreasing.
2. The effectiveness of the social distancing measures on the spread of COVID-19 was different between the 10 focused countries. This variation is considered to be due to the difference in the level of promulgated social distancing measures, as well as the difference in the COVID-19 spread situation at the time of promulgations between the countries.
3. The transition of daily confirmed-cases and daily death-cases in each country has similar trends.
4. The growth rates of daily confirmed-cases of EU member countries (except Germany), The U.K. and The U.S. at the time of promulgating the highest social distancing measures were higher than that of other focused countries. This means that the spread situation of COVID-19 was difficult to control at the time of promulgating the social distancing measures in these countries.
5. The growth rate of daily confirmed-cases at the time of promulgating the social distancing measures partly influences the decline rates of daily confirmed-cases after the spread reached its peak.
In essence, there is no doubt that social distancing helps to decrease the numbers of daily confirmed cases of COVID-19.
On the other hand, that doesn’t mean that we should isolate ourselves from our peers—keeping in mind that human connection can be cultivated by a variety of different means.
Pick Up The Phone
Loneliness is a threat not only to your individual health—it’s also a threat to public health. As Carolina Osorio, a psychiatrist at Loma Linda Behavioral Health Institute, points out: “Lonely people are more likely to become ill, experience cognitive decline, and die earlier than those with more social lives.”
COVID-19 has already influenced how and by what means we’re communicating with others. An opportunity to talk with someone about our concerns is extremely valuable, and simple actions like picking up the phone or connecting with a loved one over an online platform are there for us—with little to no additional cost.
More often than not, psychologists and psychiatrists are suggesting to use the term of physical distancing rather than social distancing—which, for obvious reasons, brings us to the use of the technology.
Wave to Your Neighbours from a Distance
Washington State Department of Health goes as far as to advise people to “avoid watching, reading, or listening to news reports” that would cause you to feel anxious or distressed. “A near-constant stream of news is not calming”, as WSDH points out.
Instead, a better idea would be to go out and take walk—and maybe even wave to one’s neighbors from “six feet away.” Choose to focus on what you can control. Introduce structure into your day—try to maintain familiar routines in daily life.
Catherine Beling, Ph.D., stresses out that “It's not realistic to hunker down and cut yourself off from everything at this point because the harm caused to your life would probably outweigh the potential harm caused to you by the virus.”
And then—most of all—remember to practice your empathy skills.