WASHINGTON, DC — If you don’t have the heebie-jeebies by now, you soon will if you don’t take precautions during this new era of self-isolation due to the coronavirus pandemic. The anxiety most of us feel for the victims of COVID-19 is exacerbated by the loneliness of the enforced seclusion required to keep ourselves safe.
“It takes a lot of self-discipline and spiritual moxie to overcome the sadness, boredom, disquiet and agitation of solitary confinement. It’s a far cry from those moments when you want some alone time and it can lead to bouts of depression. Unfortunately, once again seniors are among the most susceptible,” according to Rebecca Weber, CEO of the Association of Mature American Citizens.
Weber cites data from the University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging. It shows that long before the pandemic overwhelmed the U.S. in October of 2018, 34% of older Americans between the ages of 50 and 80 reported that they felt a lack of companionship. And, she said, the authors of that study recently noted that “as social distancing and stay-at-home orders continue in many states in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, feelings of isolation and loneliness may be amplified among older adults.”
Meanwhile, the same poll showed that individuals who engaged in social activities were less likely to feel isolated.
So what can you do about it?
According to the experts, simply engaging an elderly friend or relative in conversation is a good way to start, Weber said.
• Social stimulation without face-to-face contact is, indeed, possible and easy enough to do. Think about making a phone call every day or a couple of times a week to a lonely neighbor, friend or family member. Better yet, make it a video call using your cell phone. You may have to provide easy to follow instructions and maybe even the device, but it will be well worth it. It’s a good and effective substitute for a physical visit.
• And, when you are on one of your calls, you might use the occasion to explain that the lockdown doesn’t preclude getting physical by taking a walk at least once a day, for example. A trip around the block or even in the backyard or the confines of your home provides a healthy dose of fresh air and exercise, even if you have to wear a face mask.
• If you notice a tinge of negativity in your conversation, deal with it. Reminisce about happy events in the past or talk about food, old friends and old movies — topics that provoke a smile or a laugh. After all, the purpose of making the contact is to spread cheer.
• Give that person a purpose by suggesting “chores” such as gathering family recipes, organizing family pictures or encouraging him or her to take up a new hobby such as jigsaw puzzles.
• Finally, you may want to suggest getting involved with a local charity. Lending a helping hand to a local charity such as a food-for-the-needy organization. Simple tasks such as mailing solicitations for contributions and/or packaged food items can make a shut-in feel not so isolated and can give them a “helper’s high.” In other words, helping others reinforces our sense of worth.
“It’s all about creating distractions that replace the negative thoughts that come to mind when you’ve got too much idle time on your hands, making you feel useless, all alone and in despair,” Weber said.