Mike Jacquart

Reports indicate that loneliness is at an all-time high in the United States. That’s not hard to believe given the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic four years ago and the subsequent shuttering of thousands of offices and other businesses that continues to affect society to this day.

It was certainly a workplace shift that many were not prepared for. “COVID has forced tens of thousands of workers to find out if working from home is for them,” wrote Marina London in my book, Climbing out of Darkness: A Personal Journey into Mental Wellness. “Some people are [sic] thrilled to give up their daily commutes and use Zoom. Others are desperately missing the social interactions provided by the workplace.”

But while COVID has waned, loneliness has not for thousands, so it is an important topic to bring to light during National Mental Wellness Month.

Actually, the pandemic only exasperated a trend that was occurring in society as technology made people more and more comfortable with doing everything from home – not only working, but also using Door Dash, Uber Eats, Amazon, and other convenient platforms to order everything from pizza to new furniture.

Even when people are out and about in public, continued fascination with the screens on their smart phones makes folks more focused on their mobile devices than the people around them. This is not to say that these societal changes are all bad. Certainly, they’re not, but the trend toward increased isolation concerns many – and it’s a direction that’s a particular worry for those at risk of, or already suffering from a mood disorder or other mental health challenge.

“Research has long noted the link between social isolation and mental well-being,” noted psychosocial rehabilitation therapist Kendra Cherry in an online article on the verywellmind website. “People who have solid social connections have a lower risk of depression than those who lack strong social and emotional support.”

What to do? As I’ve learned in my Fresh Hope support group, everything in life involves making a choice. We can decide to stay at home for hours, even days, at a crack, or we can make healthier choices. It’s no wonder that Therefore, I choose is part of every Fresh Hope tenet. The following are some personal suggestions:

*Get out of your house or apartment several times a day – especially when it is sunny. If you have a dog, even better yet as pets give you a built-in reason to walk and they are great companions as well. Exercise releases natural “feel good” hormones, including endorphins and serotonin. Even during my darkest days of depression some years ago, I found that “pushing through” to go for bike rides (I didn’t have a dog at the time) always left me feeling at least a little better.

*Make social contacts. Meet a friend or family member for breakfast or lunch on a regular basis. If this is not possible, go by yourself and make some idle chit-chat with another customer, waitress, etc. This is not easy for many of us, especially since social withdrawal is a common trait of depression. The simplest interactions will help you get out of your shell. “How are you today?” “I haven’t seen you in here before.” “I love your jacket. Where did you get it?” are some ideas for even short conversation starters.

Enlist other help. If venturing outside your home or apartment is difficult for ambulatory or other reasons, Cherry suggests reaching out to friends and family in other ways. “Just having the chance to talk regularly, whether it’s a text, phone call, or video chat, can help you feel more connected to other people,” she advises.

Consider joining a support group. Whether online or in person, Fresh Hope or another support system, you will have a chance to talk to other people who might be going through the same issues that you are. Support and encouragement are always good things!

Recognize the difference between loneliness and feeling alone. My sister, who has been single most of her life, likes pointing out that while she lives alone, she seldom feels lonely due to her in-person and online social connections with friends and family.

Finally, remember you’re never “really” alone. Lastly, but certainly not unimportantly, scripture reminds us that God will never leave us nor forsake us. When I lost my dog some years back, I dreaded the hours my wife was gone at her job. I prayed each day, “God, either help me through this, or take me home.” While it took time, I sensed His presence and reassurance that things would get better.

God has wired us to be social creatures. Whatever you are going through in your life, I have found that reaching out to others, even when you have to “push through” to do it, will help. And when you can’t, reach out to Him, as God enjoys spending time with us. Either, or both ways, it’s all good.

Mike Jacquart belongs to a Fresh Hope support group, has appeared on one of Pastor Brad’s podcasts and the author of “Climbing out of Darkness: A Personal Journey into Mental Wellness.” For more information, contact Mike at madjac@tds.net.

Marina London LCSW has extensive experience as a clinician as well as an executive for several national EAP (employee assistance programs) and managed health care firms. She can be reached at marina@impactconsulting.health

For more on Kendra Cherry’s article and other related advice, check out https://www.verywellmind.com/the-impact-of-social-isolation-on-mental-health-7185458

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