lonely old woman looking out window

The Loneliness Pandemic

Terri Davis magazine

Sure, coronavirus has upset the world, but what about loneliness?



Even before the coronavirus pandemic hit, people around the world were in the throes of an even bigger dis-ease: loneliness. Down the generations and down the centuries, pure loneliness might have been embraced by the odd poet, religious essayist, and Trappist monk. But for the ordinary person in the modern world, boredom and loneliness runs deeper than any boardgame or movie can fix.

What your loneliness needs is a purpose.

So now that we are forced into isolation, kept away from family and friends, with only our trusty pets at our sides, how badly is modern mental health being affected? How high is the loneliness quotient today, a disease that continues to ravage communities of old people, the sick, the single, and any of us who haven’t experienced human contact or touch lately. And was it always this way before the internet and the telephone?

On the subject of isolation and modern loneliness, Yahoo Finance says, “In 2020 we are lonelier and more isolated than at any other point in our recorded past. On some level, I’m sure that makes it easier to remain in quarantine. We also have the technological tools to work from our homes without much impact on our output. We can get cough medicine delivered within hours and even speak with a doctor in absentia thanks to telemedicine.

“But our isolation also makes us more vulnerable. Consider two different stories I heard this week. First, a single mother was frantically worried that she might get sick and not be able to find someone to watch her children while she was quarantined. Apparently, she didn’t have close friends or neighbors that she felt could be relied on. Another woman’s Twitter thread went viral after she was flagged down by an elderly woman in a grocery store parking lot who pressed cash and a list into her hand and begged her to buy her groceries, since she was so afraid of contracting the virus at her age.”

Time Magazine points to the history of loneliness and a single strategy for curing loneliness: meaning.

“More than ever before, people are alone and lonely, deprived of the companionship of others, of touch and human connection. Loneliness in lockdown is easily explained by those who note that, as the much-quoted neuroscientist John Cacioppo put it, we are wired for intimacy. Humans have a biological need to be in social groups and loneliness tells us we have a physical need for human contact.

“Yet this biological approach ignores the histories of the body, and emotions. It overlooks the fact that loneliness is not a universal human condition, but a historically specific one. Before 1800, loneliness wasn’t even a word in regular use in the English language. Where it was used, it meant the same as a much more common term: loneliness, the state of being alone. Trees were lonely, roads were lonely, even clouds — as William Wordsworth noted in his famous poem. But that loneliness was not the same as today’s loneliness, that disconnect between the relationships we have and those we want to have.

“For loneliness to exist, two things are needed: a lack of meaning in one’s relationships (or lack thereof) and a sense of the self as separate from others. In pre-modern society, religion gave meaning to all existence, and there was less emphasis on the uniqueness of the individual. For good and ill, an invisible hand had the wheel. When the 18th century shopkeeper and diarist Thomas Turner’s wife died and his friends abandoned him, he was ”worn to the grave with trouble,” but he was not lonely. And how could he be? God was always there.

Loneliness comes with more than a bunch of boredom for the modern, hyper-connected person. It comes with heart attacks, obesity, suicide, and other mental health disturbances. That we are social creatures, more connected than ever, is only underscored when we find we can’t even go and do the simple things, like visiting mom. At least yet. Being isolated from people might be a gift to some, but for most people being isolated and alone is a curse. An actual dis-ease of the mind that manifests in the body as well.

Finding your abiding purpose in life, guided by whatever higher power you believe in, even if that higher power is your own untapped ability, connects you to a mission larger than just you, attaching you to ideals and meaning beyond the daily routines of ennui. Take some time to think about what matters to you and why, connect the dots and find the wisdom to see that you are never alone, what drives you now is what was also important to you yesterday. Take comfort in the fact that your real connection to your higher purpose exists as strongly as ever. That not only can we beat a virus together, we can also beat loneliness by remembering who we are and what higher purpose or calling we serve.

Do you need advice on reaching your life and career goals? Reach out to our coaching team at beprofound@profoundtalent.com

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