According to a Cigna survey released in January 2020, more than 3 in 5 Americans said they were lonely. This represented a 13% increase in loneliness from the same study conducted 2 years earlier. More people are feeling left out, misunderstood, and lacking companionship.
Not surprisingly, the coronavirus hasn’t helped, especially for older adults and those with serious health issues, such as patients with cancer.
In fact, another poll from the University of Michigan, AARP, and Michigan Medicine conducted in June found that 56% of people over the age of 50 said they sometimes or often felt isolated, more than double the number from 2 years earlier. About half said they felt more isolated in June than before the pandemic arrived in the United States.
Evidence suggests that loneliness can lead to mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, as well as physical health problems. Research has also linked loneliness to poorer outcomes in patients with cancer, who are more likely to experience stress and neglect their own health when they feel lonely. COVID-19 has only compounded the potential risks.
How and Where to Find Companionship
The University of Michigan poll included some good news that patients with cancer can use to find companionship and build closer connections. For example, during the pandemic:
- 46% of older adults who interacted with people in their neighborhood at least once a week were less lonely
- 59% use social media (Facebook, Instagram, etc) at least once a week
- 31% use video chat (Zoom, Google Meet, Facebook Messenger, etc) at least once a week
Obviously, these types of activities create opportunities to find companionship and strengthen relationships. Most group activities today can be held virtually, whether you want to take an art class, play board games, attend a religious service, or play an instrument in a band or orchestra. These virtual activities are just as accessible to patients with cancer as everyone else. A simple Google search for the types of activities that interest you will provide plenty of options!
Get Outside and Get Moving
Healthy behaviors during the pandemic also go a long way toward improving a person’s physical and emotional well-being. A total of 75% of respondents to the University of Michigan poll said they go outdoors or spend time in nature, while 62% exercise several times per week.
People who engage in these healthy behaviors tend to feel less lonely. Not only are they more active with less downtime, but healthy behaviors often lead to a sense of community and togetherness with others who enjoy similar activities.
There is a social media group for people with just about any condition who enjoy just about every kind of exercise. If you can’t find one in your area, start your own!
The Silver Lining of the Pandemic
Many researchers agree that the social distancing of the pandemic has actually helped bring people together. How is that possible?
People started to recognize the importance of their relationships when the ability to interact face-to-face was taken away. A study in American Psychologist found that perceived social and emotional support actually increased during the pandemic.
This doesn’t mean everyone is finding companionship. Older adults and those with chronic conditions such as cancer are more susceptible to loneliness.
Of course, finding companionship can take effort, especially for patients with cancer when they have to stay physically separated. Fortunately, there are plenty of places to look, from social media and video chat to exercise groups and the people in your neighborhood.
Now is the time to make the effort to build closer connections and strengthen relationships with friends and family. This can help you not only endure the pandemic, but possibly emerge stronger than when it started.