New loneliness: How coronavirus changes our relationships

Although a pandemic is not a reason to panic, our main task today is to make informed decisions and not to forget about precautionary measures.

In many countries, every day more and more restrictions are introduced to slow the spread of infection and reduce the burden on health systems.

Somewhere meetings in public places and traveling abroad are prohibited by the authorities, somewhere residents are simply recommended to stay at home if possible.

Epidemiology experts advise voluntarily practicing what is called social distancing. This implies intentionally limiting contacts with people: work remotely, cancel trips, meetings with friends and elderly relatives, do not go to restaurants, bars and shops, and do not use public transport.

The distance, of course, did not arise at the beginning of the epidemic; quarantine only strengthens it. It also changes the way our relations are built: in a situation of forced isolation, many familiar things simply stop working.

We find out how proximity and our relationships are changing – and what can be done to support ourselves.

The spectrum of feelings

Psychologists note that in a situation of forced isolation, our emotional state is very vulnerable.

Many familiar things become inaccessible – there is no longer the opportunity to meet with friends and colleagues (and generally contact with someone other than those with whom you live), change the situation, and engage in the usual interesting things outside the home.

There is no way to cope with stress in the usual ways – for example, going to the gym and taking out all the negative energy on the treadmill.

The economic situation also affects: due to changed plans and the inability to work, financial conditions for people of different professions are worsening – for example, those who work in the service sector and lose customers every day.

The American Psychological Association believes that a person in isolation may encounter a spectrum of different emotions.

Probably the most understandable of them is fear and anxiety. First of all, this is an anxiety for health, one’s own and those close to one, but not only – empty shelves with toilet paper and buckwheat in stores in many cases are explained more by anxiety, rather than real necessity.

This also includes anger (the inability to leave the house and lead a familiar lifestyle, of course, annoying). And, of course, boredom and loneliness, familiar to many who stayed at home on sick leave for a long time, when movies, books and social networks are equally annoying.

“Quarantine, pandemic, and anxiety around it are an obvious deterioration in living conditions. Therefore, all the reactions of loss according to the well-known Kübler-Ross model are natural: we lose our previous standard of living, freedom of movement, the illusion of a safe world around us”, – the psychologist-consultant notes.

Many people go through denial: “They raised a panic,” “I have good immunity,” “All this hysteria is exaggerated.”

Again, you can get angry at “alarmists and hysteria,” or, on the contrary, those who deny the threat and do not observe enough quarantine measures, at the government, the healthcare system, or even suspect a world conspiracy and get angry at its creators.

Bargaining can be expressed in how we agree with our own anxiety: “I am isolated at home, but I go to the store and go to visit my girlfriend.” Or “I’ll ride the metro, but in a mask,” “I’ll go to work, but I will change by taxi.”

The situation with the pandemic of the new coronavirus, according to the American Psychological Association, may also lead to stigmatization of those who are faced with the infection.

We have already seen how the reaction to infection turns into domestic racism, when it was only about the epidemic in China – but, obviously, as the pandemic continues, outbreaks of hatred towards others continue.

In four walls

Isolation greatly affects everyone who encounters it. But those who live alone or, for example, with neighbors, a partner, a partner or children, find themselves in different situations – and face different difficulties.

Those who find themselves locked at home with loved ones can grow tension and irritability in relations with family. It’s one thing to spend time with them of your own free will on weekends and holidays, and it’s quite another to be in close contact twenty-four hours a day.
 
Pepper Schwartz, a professor of psychology at the University of Washington, believes that in a situation of isolation, two large-scale options for developing partnerships are possible.

On the one hand, a couple can begin to value each other, intimacy and support in difficult circumstances. On the other hand, partners can, on the contrary, understand that in the current relationship they do not have enough support and comfort – or that, in principle, the relationship does not suit them.

Studies show that in extreme situations, when people are forced to be locked up in their own homes, this leads to an increase in fertility. It is easy to imagine how and why this connection arises – however, the topic has been little studied, and it is not worth making such unambiguous conclusions.

On the other hand, there is evidence that in January, after families spend a lot of time together on holidays, the number of divorces increases. It is easy to imagine how in a situation of quarantine or isolation in a family, tension grows and existing conflicts grow with even greater force.

Katherine, communications manager of a technology company, together with her partner has been isolated for eleven days after returning from Italy – she works remotely, uses grocery delivery.

“Work helps to distract oneself from the agenda in the first place: there is a stereotype that when you are away and others don’t see you, you work half-heartedly and not as efficiently as in the office, of course, I wanted to prove by my own example that this is not so”, – she says.

“Secondly, quarantine is the right time for online learning and pending courses that your hands haven’t reached. Thirdly, we found another ideal activity for isolation – now we are assembling a puzzle for 1000 pieces with Monet’s water lilies. We laugh among ourselves that when we collect it completely, the coronavirus must come to an end.”

People who live alone can, on the contrary, feel more lonely – even if in normal circumstances they are quite comfortable without a relationship and alone with themselves.

Forced isolation is a rather difficult experience, even for those who consider themselves an introvert and do not feel the need for daily close communication.

The very inability to reach people, have a good time, and see friends can oppress.

Anxiety may increase: among other reasons (pandemic situation, heavy news and the risk of getting sick, of course, they can be unnerving), our psyche also reacts to the deprivation of contacts with other people as a threat.

In ordinary life, a person working on a regular basis from home can compensate for the lack of communication and impressions after work: go to a bar, a movie, meet with relatives.

In an isolation situation, all of these ways of supporting yourself are not available.

In addition, those who live alone can be frightened by everyday moments: for example, who can help buy medicines and products if a person is sick (not necessarily a coronavirus) and is not able to get to the store himself?

“Soon after I moved to London, I ran into an upset stomach,” – Rachel says. “When the nausea went away, I had to eat again, but there was nothing suitable at home. The nearest store was across the street, but I was so weak, that I couldn’t get there. So I had to write to my friend to bring me drinks and crackers. When I saw her face at the door, this alone and the realization that someone was taking care of me lifted my spirits. The idea that something like this could happen to me again is terrifying.”

Vulnerability

Isolation due to the new coronavirus has affected a wide variety of people. But there are those who are the most vulnerable in such a situation: a pandemic can increase their isolation.

First of all, we are talking, of course, about older people, especially those who need help with household chores, with food and medicine.

It may also be more difficult for people with disabilities and health problems – of course, these conditions are not associated with the new coronavirus, but large-scale restrictions can prevent them from getting help.

Researchs show that loneliness can exacerbate existing health problems in older people. There is a connection between isolation from society and poor health – for example, the development of dementia, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and other conditions.

Moreover, our body perceives the state of loneliness as a threat: humanity has developed in such a way that social ties are very important for our well-being.

Loneliness causes stress, and chronic stress increases the level of cortisol in our body – this increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, depression and premature death.

It is not easy for families with small children, especially for mothers, who are most often responsible for raising a child.

Eve, who lives in a suburb of Rotterdam, says that she has been in self-isolation with a child from March 9 – from March 15, the Dutch government introduced additional measures, closing all public places except shops and pharmacies.

According to her, different practices help maintain comfort and calm in such a situation:

“Sleep and walks in the forest (we live not far from it). We also began to do things that our hands had not reached for a long time – we sort toys and clothes with the child (we remove those from which the child grew up). I finally drew attention to the garden, removed the leaves and all the rubbish, cut hydrangeas.”

Finally, those who regularly experience domestic violence, and because of isolation, are locked up with the abuser in the same room, may find themselves in a particularly difficult situation.

In China, with which the new coronavirus pandemic began, evidence has emerged that the incidence of domestic violence has increased.

In some countries, they fear a repeat of the situation: for example, the Spanish police are asking a woman to report if she is in the same room with the aggressor.

New connections

In an isolation situation, experts from the American Psychological Association advise primarily to limit the flow of news related to the new coronavirus and look at the sources of information.

They believe that pandemic information should be dosed so as not to increase anxiety.

In an isolation situation, psychologists advise to structure the day and, if possible, bring it closer to the usual schedule: work, rest, sports, TV shows, walks.

The free schedule, where the line between work and rest is blurred, according to the expert, leads to the fact that a person is simultaneously overloaded and ineffective.

“If you find yourself in quarantine with your family, it’s worthwhile to divide the day if possible so that everyone has time (and place) in their separate classes, and arrange and organize time for joint leisure separately,” – says Ana.

The consulting psychologist notes that many in isolation want to drown out the feeling of loneliness with something. She advises avoiding alcohol and “background” distracting activities such as non-stop TV shows and constant correspondence with friends between other matters.

There is nothing wrong with chat rooms or watching TV shows. Just launched in the background, they won’t bring the pleasure they could and will distract from other activities. There is a risk that the feeling of loneliness will only increase in this way.

The best option is to take time a couple of times a day to make a full voice call or video call on Skype and talk with loved ones, no longer distracting anything. And watch a movie in the evening or at lunch time, as a well-deserved reward after the completed work.

Those who are in forced or voluntary isolation with a partner, psychotherapists are advised first of all to admit that now is a difficult time and everyone can make a mistake.

Also, the expert considers it important to agree on the word “stop”:

“You can say something like: “When I get angry, I can say something that I will regret. And I want to be able to take a break and look at the situation with a sober look to save you and our relationship.”

For a situation where intense emotions are in effect, there is a life hack: go to the bathroom, turn on ice water, draw it in the palm of your hand and dip your face into it, holding your breath.

According to the expert, this technique helps when a person is very angry or crying.

In addition, the therapist considers it important to be able to distract – this is especially important when people are close to each other:

“Distraction” is a separate practice in therapy, which is well suited in situations of uncontrolled stress. Try to disperse into different rooms, and if you are in the same room, then crawl into the corners – let everyone do his own thing. What will it be – only you choose, but try to completely immerse yourself in the lesson.

For a mother who is isolated with her children, according to an expert, everything can be more complicated.

Exhale and remind yourself that you cannot be perfect. And again: you cannot be perfect.

Psychologists also advise, if it possible, to share the burden of responsibility for children with relatives or even neighbors.

In some houses, families come together to take turns watching several children at once, thus unloading each other.

We cannot remain in complete isolation, the growth of mother’s stress proportionally affects children. It is better to share responsibility than to bring yourself to a nervous breakdown or use violence.

Today it is becoming completely clear that, just as with the economy, the coronavirus will change our communication as well – in contrast to social loneliness, new forms of interaction may come.

Relationships move to a remote format – just as individual companies go to work remotely.

Today, there are much more opportunities for online communication than ten years ago, and many help to recreate the feeling of the interlocutor’s presence: voice messaging and video communication are in many instant messengers.

Virtual bars and platforms for online concerts are appearing – everything that helps to feel the unity and familiar course of life, albeit in such an unusual format.

In Italy and other European countries, residents of quarantined cities began to communicate through the balconies: play music, sing songs, play sports together.

The main thing in this whole situation is not to forget about those who do not have such an opportunity.


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14 thoughts on “New loneliness: How coronavirus changes our relationships

  1. Awesome article,,, living on my own and was writing in my journal about this very topic just this morning,,, your article is spot-on with the emotions I’ve been experiencing,,, comforting to read your article and find out what I’m feeling is normal considering the circumstances,,,I look forward to future articles!

  2. Excellent work, friend! It was informative, interesting, and intelligent. This period of time will be discussed for ages to come and all the different perspectives will be important to convey what it was really like to live through this crisis. Brava!

  3. Excellent article about an aspect of the pandemic that’s not been in the spotlight. Nuanced analysis of the subtleties of individuals’ response to the situation based on their circumstances and personality. Good job!

  4. Thank you very much for that work. It was a good summary of what we experience which is useful in itself. You changed the whole flavor though with your particular style. I especially liked a couple of the useful strategies for coping I had never heard before.

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