I listened to an interview with Dr. Vivek Murthy (the Surgeon General under President Barack Obama). He recently published a book titled, Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World. He said loneliness is at the root of many mental and physical illnesses in the world. Loneliness is not the same as isolation or solitude. It is a gap between the connections you need and the connections you have.
“You can be surrounded by many people but still feel quite lonely if you don’t have strong connections and if you feel you can’t be yourself with them.” Dr. Vivek Murthy
Anger = Loneliness?
Dr. Murthy mentioned that loneliness is at an all time high with all of the isolation due to Covid 19. One thing that struck me that he said about loneliness is that it can present itself in various ways. It is not just a person sitting in a corner at a party looking sad. It can look like anger, irritability, anxiety, depression, etc.
It’s hard to say we are lonely
Dr. Murthy said that often his patients do not come right out and say they are lonely. They mention feelings of anger, anxiety or depression. They say they are not eating much or feel tired a lot. Upon further inquiry, sometimes they will say they wish they had more people in their lives, more friends or more of a community. They do not even realize they are lonely or they feel embarrassed to say they are.
We can feel lonely in a full house
About mid-May, I started to feel restless, irritable and empty/sad. I have been home with my family non-stop since mid March. At times, there were up to eight people in the house. All but one of our five children is back at home due to Covid. We had another 18 year old young man staying with us for two months as well. I should not feel lonely, but I did/do.
My husband and children are good company but something is still missing. I’ve had relief from these lonely pains when I walk with three of my women friends and when my husband and I went to a cabin with two other couples a few weeks ago. My spirit also noticeably lifted when I spoke with my dad and stepmom on the phone and when we dined out with my sister-in-law and brother-in-law.
Missing community, diversity and female friends
I miss going to church and seeing friends. The community atmosphere gives me a sense of belonging and a place to make plans and offer service. Online church is good but not the same.
It seems I need people outside my home to make me feel connected. I crave diversity and novelty in my people and my schedule. The daily routines of our household are starting to grate on my nerves.
I have learned I also crave female companionship. At home, it is just my daughter and me and all the guys. Talking with other women normalizes my feelings and thoughts. It is difficult for my husband and sons to fully understand the female/mother/wife perspective.
Are the kids feeling it?
Realizing loneliness shows up as anger and irritability, made me wonder how lonely my children are during this strange time of public limitations and disappointment. All of my kids experienced a lot of disappointment and change due to the corona virus. Much of the time they were separated from their friends. We’ve all had moments of impatience and irritability.
Could your anger, fatigue or anxiety be loneliness?
Humans need other humans. It is scientifically proven. It is not a surprise this pandemic has increased our feelings of loneliness. What may be a surprise is the way loneliness presents itself. Have you noticed anger and irritability but not considered it to be loneliness? Are you more tired or eating less? Has your anxiety increased? These are all potential signs of loneliness.
Connect consistently and with few distractions
With the virus still virulent, it is hard to increase our socializing too much, but I recommend you find ways to connect. It may be virtually. It may be outside at a distance. Dr. Vivek says to make the connection time we do have, high quality (limit distractions) and consistent (eg. talk with your parents every Tuesday via zoom).
Are you feeling lonely? On a scale of 1-10 how irritable are you? Who do you miss connecting with most?