The world’s population has had to quickly adapt to measures taken to help contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, with millions of people confined to their homes. These provisions, adopted in order to help curb the contagion curve, will be gradually relaxed based on the evolution of the situation. Thus, the unprecedented situation posed by the COVID-19 pandemic is at the same time a global health crisis and a social challenge, with a great impact on the health system, organizations and, above all, on people.
It is also important to keep in mind that the lack of social interaction and in-person contact with friends and loved ones can lead to a feeling of isolation , which in turn can lead to a series of health problems, and generate a feeling of loneliness . An emotion that, in the long term, can manifest itself in many ways, both physically and psychologically, and which in turn can lead to increased levels of anxiety .
In this sense, it is important to highlight that loneliness can affect anyone, but special attention must be paid to those most vulnerable groups , such as people who live alone , or the elderly . Specifically, in Spain there are more than two million one-person households made up of people over 65, according to the INE’s Continuous Household Survey. At the same time, it is one of the groups most affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, becoming the most fragile group, as highlighted by the Spanish Society of Geriatrics and Gerontology (SEGG). This places our elders in a position of double vulnerability : facing the pandemic, and facing loneliness.
As Dra. María Sánchez, e-Health Medical Manager at Cigna Spain, points out, «feelings of loneliness may appear due to different factors, but, in the current context of social isolation in which we find ourselves, the population is she has been forced to separate herself from her loved ones, which may predispose her to experience a lack of social connection with other people ”. For this reason, according to the doctor, “it is important to bear in mind that, despite the fact that it is a temporary phenomenon, loneliness during the period of isolation can undoubtedly significantly reduce our quality of life , negatively affecting our health and well-being, especially among the most vulnerable groups «.
In this sense, in the words of Dr. Sánchez, “although the seriousness of the situation is undeniable, the good news is that, by applying certain guidelines, we can help curb the feeling of loneliness , thus preventing our health and well-being are harmed during this period. Leading a healthy lifestyle or using technology to feel closer to family and friends is a good starting point, as well as maintaining a positive attitude , knowing that we are doing our bit to stop the virus from spreading, helping to improve collective health ».
For this reason, the health insurer Cigna proposes a series of recommendations to limit the impact of loneliness on our health and well-being:
– Avoid negative thoughts . Constantly thinking about the negative part of isolation can make emotional distress worse. Accepting the situation is the first step to control emotions and thus minimize the chances of the loneliness appearing. In this sense, the Official College of Psychologists of Madrid3 recommends avoiding over-information to prevent the feeling of risk and unnecessary nervousness, always seeking information from official sources. In this way, alarmist data and events that can trigger anxiety will be avoided.
– Use technology as a means of emotional connection . Social relationships are essential for physical and mental health. Maintaining regular contact with the social circle through video calls, instant messaging, or simple phone conversations is more important than ever. However, it is necessary to make a healthy use of this connection: do not put the Covid-19 in the center of all conversations, and try to talk about other topics that allow you to be distracted.
– Practice meditation techniques . Mindfulness or conscious control of breathing can become great allies to calm anxiety and reduce anxiety and stress at this stage. Practicing breathing and meditation exercises can even help delay the aging of the brain, so that the immune system reacts more solidly in the production of antibodies.
– Maintain a certain level of physical activity . Doing physical exercise helps release endorphins in the brain, so if a certain level of physical activity is maintained during this period, the production levels of these hormones will remain high. Currently, there are many resources available online to exercise safely at home, regardless of the level of fitness you have.
– Take care of the diet, essential to improve mood . Since approximately 95% of serotonin – the hormone that works as a neurotransmitter and that promotes the regulation of sleep, appetite, and mood – is produced in the gastrointestinal tract, caring for food will be essential to cope with loneliness, as indicated by Harvard University4. In this way, increasing the intake of foods such as white meats, eggs, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, bananas or dark chocolate, always within the framework of a balanced diet, will contribute to improving our mood.
– Maintain regular and regular communication with classmates . Adapting to work from home can affect people’s emotional well-being, as the work environment is often a place of social interaction. For this reason, it is important to continue to maintain regular communication with colleagues, whether by phone, email or videoconference.
– Expose yourself to the sun, if possible . Sunlight strengthens our immune system and improves our mood, as it stimulates the synthesis of vitamin D, a key substance for the central nervous system that helps control depressive symptoms. Sun exposure should be between 10 and 20 minutes a day.
– Establish a routine with regular sleep schedules . It is important to establish schedules and maintain routines, especially regarding sleep, eating, and physical exercise. The longer it is occupied, the less space will be left to solitude.