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As more and more people are vaccinated, lockdowns ease and our social life begins to return to normal, many people are confronted by a feeling they may not have fully acknowledged: loneliness. But there are nuances to loneliness that are valuable to understand in order to ease the transition back to normal social interaction and regain the sheer joy of living.
In an article by Alvin Powell, Staff Writer for the Harvard Gazette, he quotes Jeremy Nobel of the Center for Primary Care at Harvard Medical School as saying, “The experience of loneliness is 100 percent subjective. Isolation is the objective state of being physically separate. Loneliness is self-perceived gap between our social connectedness and that which we aspire to have.”
In short, you can be alone and not feel lonely. But as the months of the pandemic dragged on, many people found that more difficult to achieve, and the side effects are serious. Powell quotes Karestan Koenen, a Harvard Chan School expert in mental health impacts of trauma as saying, “Loneliness is a big concern, especially for people already isolated. We know it’s toxic to health, not just mental health but physical health.”
If you’ve felt lonely, and to combat the ill effects of loneliness, it’s important to renew social connections as soon as you believe it’s safe to do so. As you do, keep the following in mind:
- Reach out to a friend, especially one you believe may also have been feeling lonely.
- If you’ve lost a loved one during the last year, it’s critical to reach out to family or friends in order to grieve properly.
- Use the arts to heal and reconnect. Share anything from art to a poem to a cooked meal with friends.
- Realize that there is no stigma attached to loneliness. If there’s one good side effect to the pandemic, it’s that people have generally recognized that without social interaction it’s perfectly normal to feel lonely.
To read more about the nuances of loneliness, see the Harvard Gazette article here.