If loneliness is an emotional response to perceived isolation, what happens to loneliness when the isolation is real? For many people during this pandemic of covid19, people are experiencing real “alone-ness” due to real isolation.
Alone vs. Lonely
For people who have experienced feeling lonely prior to being quarantined, social isolation can exacerbate the intense feeling of being lonely. The operative word is feeling. Being alone and being lonely are two different states. “Lonely” is a state of mind or a state of emotional reaction to perception while being alone is simply a physical reality. Many people feel absolutely fine with being alone. People who feel lonely on the other hand, can feel lonely even in a crowd. Lack of intimacy is one way to characterize loneliness.
Physical and Emotional Costs of Loneliness
Feeling lonely can lead to emotional states such as anxiety and depression. It could also lead to various increased stress levels. Some find alcohol and drugs as a way to fend off the feeling. Feeling lonely can also lead to poor decision-making or other cognitive issues and progression of some conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease. For people who cannot cope any longer, suicidal thoughts may intrude.
Treatment for loneliness usually involves trying to increase one or all of the following: a person’s social skills; social support; opportunities to build social interactions; and/or changing irrational thoughts and beliefs. Even during this quarantine, one can fend off loneliness in an adaptive manner. The SPARC Method is a simple tool to use on loneliness thoughts that you can implement even while in quarantine.
The SPARC Method
Sense. What are the sensations of loneliness? Can I taste, touch, smell, or hear what I am experiencing? Do I feel a certain way? Is it physical or emotional? Can I name it as loneliness? Is something wrong? Do I feel any other way?
Perceive. How do you see your current situation? Is this the way others would see it? Can I see it from a different vantage point? Am I feeling lonely? Do I feel lonely because I am isolated? Or do I have friends and a support system that I feel I cannot reach? Do I feel lonely because I do not have any intimacy in my life? It may be a sign that something needs to be changed.
Acknowledge your needs. Name it. I feel lonely. Is it that I am alone or lonely? Understand how feeling lonely affects your life in physical and mental ways. Am I sad? Am I anxious? Am I angry and irritable? Am I tired?
Reflect. Reflect on your current status. Am I lonely? Do I lack intimacy? Do I mistake my being alone with lonely? If I think lonely, I act on this thought. If I think alone, I act on this thought. In other words, if I feel lonely, I may feel down or anxious. I may feel rejected or neglected. If I am simply alone, I may need to try to reach out to others through phone calls, video chats or some other means to decrease being alone. Can I be alone and not feel lonely?
Create. Decide on what you may wish to do about your situation. You can go inside of yourself. Ultimately, most of our emotional states are an “inside job.” We make choices based on our external environment but our reactions are internal. Perhaps it is time to clear irrational beliefs such as, if I am alone, it means I am lonely. Challenge yourself to change your attitudes and instead of focusing on feeling rejected, focus on positive thoughts and attitudes in the social relationships you already have. If there are none, it may be a time to join a community through service (when quarantine is no longer an issue). During quarantine, you can research the possibilities and find ways to join at a time when it is OK to do so. Even while in quarantine, you can probably join a few online venues that are available. Remember when you pay too much attention to the negative of anything, it reverberates in your world. You can consciously choose to think differently.
In summary, the SPARC Method may not be the only way to address loneliness but it is a way to examine the inner thoughts and feelings that lead to feelings of neglect or rejection. Through this method, one can create a conscious choice to feel different. While physically isolated from others, one may experience transient feelings of loneliness which can exacerbate physical and mental conditions. Be compassionate to your needs. Treat yourself like you would a good friend. Your internal life is yours. Your internal choices are yours. While externally you may be alone, the state of loneliness is an internal choice.
For books and articles on loneliness, you may wish to see the following site: