Connecting…one, two, three…
I’m in hard lockdown, this time for 3 days which is hardly any time at all. A local taxi driver didn’t know he was positive and spent ten days in the community generously sharing the dreaded virus, the Delta strain. As I reschedule my clients in the hope that this lockdown will remain short, I am shocked and surprised to discover that many of my clients have not been vaccinated. I have had my two Astra Zeneca jabs. Australia has been slow off the mark to organise enough supplies and even to encourage the population to be vaccinated and the messages received have been mixed and vague.
Now we have increasing numbers of infections daily in New South Wales and in Queensland, my state, it’s beginning to take hold sporadically. We are lucky we have had so few cases but suddenly it is becoming serious. Perhaps it was serious nearly two years ago but the government just didn’t take enough notice of the responses of other countries as a warning.
So, I’m in lockdown — what can I do? Is it time to practice those banjo pics and rolls I’ve been meaning to figure out? Do I get on with my short stories? Probably, but to be honest, that’s nothing new. I think I will make a concerted effort to contact all those I know who are also in lockdown and do my best to boost their serotonin levels. I recently downloaded an app on my phone called ‘Loom.’ This is not an advert for it — however, it does allow me to record short video messages and send them as SMS. I don’t necessarily want to have the same conversation with each of them — How are you? How’s it going? Have you got enough toilet paper? You know the kind of thing — so I’m going to record a Loom video message, about thirty seconds long and just say hi — make it generic and then send it to all my friends who are stuck indoors.
It’s about connection. I can’t possibly connect with everyone in person but I can take the time to tell them all I’m thinking about them. Isolation, it’s a killer. We are social animals and even though we may enjoy our own company, we are programmed to be part of a community. When I was punished as a child part of the punishment would be to be ignored or sent away. Connection itself is rewarding, firing our serotonin transmitters and endorphins within the body.
We know that social isolation affects both our immune system and increases inflammation. This inflammation can trigger a multitude of illnesses, diabetes type II, heart disease, arthritis, autoimmune disorders. Ask someone who has attempted to commit suicide — loneliness, isolation, lack of connection are often on their list of contributing factors to their deadly decision.
I know isolation is not the same as loneliness. Social isolation is about having minimal contact with others and loneliness is a subjective state of negative feeling with regard to social contact (Peplau & Perlman 1982) but often, definitions of isolation include loneliness. The one thing we do know definitely is that social isolation and loneliness are both a risk for premature death.
The risk of premature death associated with social isolation and loneliness is similar to the risk of premature death associated with well-known risk factors such as obesity, based on a meta-analysis of research in Europe, North American, Asia and Australia (Holt-Lunstad et al. 2015).
I’m not one of those Luddites who will cry out against the existence of social media and the increase of technology in our social lives. Far from it. I have friends whose locations span the globe and without technology, I wouldn’t be able to reach out and say to them — thinking of you — or even pin them down and have a chat with them. I can do both now, thanks to technology. Social media has given me more interaction than I had previously and my sense of isolation has diminished greatly.
As a therapist, I will often send my clients a thirty-second video message asking how they are or encouraging them in their homework or daily life. They report back to me that this makes them feel ‘seen’ and ‘remembered.’ It shows them that someone cares about them.
In 2018, Psychology Week, collaborating with Swinburne University, conducted a study on loneliness. The results were staggering. 1 in 4 Australians feels lonely. Thirty percent of Australians don’t feel part of a group of friends and lonely Australians have worse physical and mental health and are more likely to be depressed. Pull back the community curtains in any country and I would guess that similar results would manifest. What can we do about it? Well, I suggest that once lockdown is over in your area, make sure you get to know your neighbours. Don’t let people be ‘invisible’ on your watch. I’m not suggesting that you throw a street party but small acts of kindness can go a long way. Have nothing in common with them? Ask about pets, many people have them and they are of great comfort and companionship for many. By connecting on this level — you connect deeply where their love is centred and focused. Ask their name. Say good morning when you see them and let them be noticed. The power of a hello on the street or when we hear our name being said by another connects us and adds a feeling that we do matter to someone else, even if for a fleeting moment.
So you’ll have to excuse me now as I go and record some 30-second film messages on my Loom App. I’ve got about 12 people I need to tell that they are important enough for me to take some time out to say hello and I need to show I care about them. Being lonely might only be a state of mind but I can at least break the isolation with a personal interruption to their day. One step away from loneliness and depression.