Since March 2020, we have been enduring the Covid-19 pandemic. With social distancing and resulting lock downs, schools and churches were closed, gathering in groups was restricted, events were cancelled, and many worked from home. Many went months without seeing anyone that they do not live with, and some continue this precaution. Even as places reopened and have less restriction, many still work from home or are participate in virtual learning or homeschooling. Many decline to worship in person and continue church online. With all this social distance and isolation, loneliness, depression, and frustration thrive.
Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed (Psalms 57:1).
In recent years prior to the Covid-19, researchers have been studying the link between isolation and inflammation in the body. It has been shown that inflammation in the body causes illness and depression. It’s plausible to conclude that the isolation we have been experiencing since Covid-19 began could make us feel more depressed. The lockdown and social distancing measures were intended to slow down the spread of Covid-19, but the corollary impacts these measures have had on mental health are detrimental. Many experienced an increase of anxiety, worry, and depression. Mental health workers are finding that there’s been an increase in reports of suicidal ideation.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me (Psalms 23:4).
Populations like seniors and those with other medical conditions are more prone to loneliness and isolation due to their higher risk of contracting Covid-19 and having more severe cases.
Both populations may typically experience isolation in their lives. Covid-19 has magnified the isolation and loneliness. Many have not seen family members in several months and continue planning to practice social distance. Out of concern of exposing their loved one to the virus, many families continue to avoid direct contact and opt to stay at a distance and wear masks. Many at-risk people are avoiding the virus but going without physical touch from those they love.
Teens and children are also being impacted by the isolation that Covid-19 demands. Children and teens were unexpectedly released from school, and many did not see their friends for months. Sports and other curricular activities were canceled and placed on hold. Children obtain the majority of their social time at school. Teens were particularly impacted by a diminished social life. Socializing transitioned to being online or on the phone. Many teens reported feeling lonely and depressed. Teens hoping to return to school but left with continued virtual learning may have increased frustration and loneliness.
Singles are also being impacted greatly by social distancing. Many are still limiting their social connections and interact more with those they live with. This leaves single adults in a more emotionally vulnerable position. Singles often express not having a person to check in with, and the social distancing has magnified this experience of isolation.
Even though social distancing has been challenging to many, there are some possible avenues to minimize the risk of loneliness. Discuss your concerns with your physician and your mental health care provider to weigh the risk vs benefit of engaging in social activities and help you gauge which activities are safest for you and your family. You may need to use some creativity to meet your social needs while protecting our family from Covid-19 exposure. For individuals that are more prone to the negative impacts of Covid-19, such as the elderly or individuals with chronic health, it is especially important to become creative in their social contact.
We are living in a time with an abundance of technology, which creates a variety of options to communicate with others. People do not have to be completely separated from their families, even if they cannot be physically together. Some individuals live further away from their families and friends. Mandatory quarantines after travel is making it more difficult to travel across state lines. Some individuals may have greater risk of infection, leading them to decide not to meet with others in person. Arranging times to communicate via phone calls or video conference can bring connection with reduced risk. Families and friends can have a game night over video chat and skype family during a gathering. Although it can be challenging to socialize over electronics, getting creative with how we engage with others is possible and will open up opportunities. Teens are experts at communicating online. Many can play online with their friends and use various social platforms. Technology can help us stay connected to distant friends and church family, it can even be a helpful way to see a counselor.
Some may choose to continue to limit the number of people at gatherings and limit the number of people that one has contact with in person in order to reduce risk of exposure to the virus. For example, some families may be engaging in church activities in smaller settings such as small groups instead of returning to a large worship setting. Some are choosing to attend gatherings only in small settings with those closer to them. Requesting the use of masks and frequent hand washing may increase opportunities to see close family or friends.
Meeting outdoors is a great way to socialize while social distancing. Many are socializing outdoors through cookouts and bonfires. Bringing your own food and drinks or having packaged food are great options. Scheduling play dates outside or at a park are a great way for families with young kids to connect. Many teens and kids enjoy riding bikes, roller blading, and skateboarding together.
The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart and saves those who have a crushed spirit (Psalm 34:18).
As Christians, we are never truly alone and can connect with our ever present Heavenly Father. God will comfort us in our loneliness. Spending more time reading the Word and praying and abiding in Him will decrease feelings of loneliness. Understanding that solitude can bring us closer to God can be a helpful perspective to hold onto while experiencing less time with friends and family. Spiritual growth can occur in isolation and many can prioritize what is important in life without distractions.
The Covid-19 pandemic has presented many challenges to us. Measures to decrease the spread of this virus has exacerbated problems of isolation and loneliness. People may face an increase of mental health issues if they are not acting intentionally to stay connected with their support systems. With careful consideration, it is possible to minimize Covid-19 exposure while increasing social connections with others.
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster