COVID lockdowns have revealed the complex ways we respond to loneliness

(ORDO NEWS) — The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in numerous closures across countries as governments have tried to limit the transmission of the virus. A new study uses these closures to explore how we experience isolation and loneliness.

Obviously, we all experience loneliness differently. For some people, this can be detrimental to mental and physical health, for others, the opportunity to be in your own space and take time for yourself is a real plus.

The study involved 70 people aged 17 to 73 and highlights the need to study loneliness across generations. In other words, older people are not the only ones at risk for the harm that loneliness can bring.

Lockdown was an extraordinary event and provided a fascinating opportunity to explore how people of all ages experience loneliness,” says psychologist Rowena Leary from the University of York in the UK.

“One of the most striking results of our study was how different people are from each other: the same situations are perceived as hell or bliss.”

Volunteers participating in the study answered a series of open-ended questions about the blocking and their reactions to it – including high and low points – and their use of social media. Although they were not asked to write specifically about loneliness, the topic came up frequently.

In addition, participants were asked to indicate how often they felt lonely during the lockdown: never, rarely, sometimes (the most common answer), or often. The researchers then analyzed and coded the various responses, identifying the three main types of loneliness mentioned in the “low point” section of the questionnaire.

These were social loneliness (lack of contact with friends and family), emotional loneliness (lack of close connections such as romantic partnerships), and existential loneliness (feeling completely separate from other people).

The stories mentioned the lack of physical contact, such as hugs, and the need to cancel social events. However, the “high moments” sections also mentioned the benefits of being alone, including being close to nature and not having to please other people.

“Existential loneliness often comes from thinking about death or dying, which probably explains why so many people have experienced it during the pandemic,” Leary says.

“It’s an interesting type of loneliness because there’s no obvious way – like providing opportunities to socialize – to help people who experience it.”

According to some reports, loneliness affects the well-being of 3 out of 10 people, and in the UK there is even a Minister for Loneliness who deals with this problem. In addition to being detrimental to mental health, loneliness has also been linked to poor cardiovascular and immune health.

To help people who are experiencing problems with loneliness, scientists need to better understand it, and research like this one is helping them do just that. This is a complex emotion, and it can be difficult for people to admit it to themselves.

The researchers suggest that further study of people who enjoy loneliness may provide clues on how to protect others from the negative effects of loneliness perhaps through relatively simple and straightforward strategies for coping with loneliness.

“COVID has shown us on a massive scale that people can’t always be with others,” says psychologist Kathryn Asbury of the University of York.

“It seems important to identify strategies for coping with loneliness – perhaps sometimes even benefiting from it – and to consider how we can help different people learn and use such strategies.”

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