Eight or nine months into this pandemic, depending on where you live, and we seem to have returned yet again to the beginning. While it is shocking to see how the numbers are spiking around the world, it probably shouldn’t be. It’s a highly contagious virus that we still don’t fully understand and there’s no reason to believe that it’s going to stop spreading.
There is good news, however. While we don’t know everything about it yet, we have learned a lot. And treatments have improved, so the number of people dying from the virus is not rising as rapidly as the number of new cases is. And it looks like at least a couple of vaccines will become available on a limited basis within the next couple of months. That’s an amazing feat and a miracle to the frontline workers who have been risking their lives all year trying to treat and take care of us, so I’m really relieved that they may have more protection soon. Even for those of us who won’t have access to it for many months to come, it’s still a bright hope on what has been a fairly dark horizon over the past few months.
We’ve also learned how we can better protect ourselves, although that’s a tough pill to swallow, even though no meds are involved. Can we please consider taking a step back and re-evaluating what it means to cover our faces? During cold and flu season every year, we put our hand over our mouth or put our face in the crook of our arm when we cough or sneeze. Everyone knows that coughing or sneezing on someone else could make that person sick. Now we have a virus that is glaringly contagious and from which many people show no symptoms, so could easily be spraying molecules in the air just talking without meaning any harm. Such a simple, simple solution. Cover our faces at all times when we’re out in public.
While most people have acclimated to new working conditions or, unfortunately, being unemployed, less purchasing options, and fewer entertainment options, we don’t seem to be doing so well with staying apart and this one’s not as simple as covering our faces. People continue to gather in small and large groups and even though we can see the effect – more positive cases coming out of what are now called super spreader events - we keep doing it.
I think we keep doing it because we are wired for connection. It’s a deep, deep need and we miscalculate the risk involved in being with others because that need for connection overrides our better senses. There are also serious health ramifications related to loneliness, so I’m sure there’s a risk analysis occurring as people feel depressed or isolated and think that the odds of catching the virus outweigh how bad they may be feeling home alone. And of course, now we have the big holidays approaching which is when loneliness, isolation, sadness and depression all increase every year.
Cigna’s eye-opening study last year showed 61% of those surveyed reported feeling lonely. Social Pro reported this April that specifically due to the coronavirus situation, 27% of Gen Z, 34% of millennials, 22% of Gen X and 20% of Baby Boomers always or often feel more lonely than before. Considering that loneliness increases the likelihood of mortality among individuals by 26%, increases risk of heart disease by 29%, increases risk of stroke by 32% and is more harmful than not exercising, socially distancing is nowhere near as simple of a solution to staying well as covering our faces.
Perhaps one answer is to deepen our connection with a smaller number of people until we get through this. I recently talked with Terri Lonowski, Educational Psychologist and Founder of Soulful Listening. Terri is an accomplished Thought Leader, whose body of work in evolutionary communication is impactful and deeply relevant, given today’s chaos & ‘loneliness pandemic’. Terri had the privilege of participating in two events held at The White House, showcasing projects which embraced empathy and Design Thinking. Through this, along with her own loneliness journey she created the Soulful Listening approach made up of 5 simple steps anyone can use to create deeper connections.
Self-care, becoming fully present, active listening with empathy, inspired action and looping back to stay connected. If we can’t be with all of those we like and love, we can deepen our relationships with a few to provide us with human connection that we all need. I hope you’ll give it some thought for this holiday season. We each have to make a decision regarding our own health, the health of our loved ones and the health of our communities. I haven’t seen my daughter or been able to hug my grandchildren for almost a year and I don’t like it one bit. But under my circumstances and risk level, combined with how terrible they would feel if I got sick, it’s the right thing to do in my case. While there’s really no excuse not to wear a mask, not seeing your loved ones takes mindful consideration and could have health risks of its own.
While the vaccine news is great news, vaccines are not a cure-all and it’s probably still going to be six to eight months before we can even think about living without some sort of accommodations to protect ourselves and others. That’s a long time. But in the meantime, remember that we can see each other any time virtually. We can still talk on the phone. And we can safely spend time with some family and friends on a limited basis if we can stay outdoors, with faces covered and staying 6 to 10 feet apart. It’s certainly not ideal and if you live in a cold region, may not be a viable option right now. But if you’re in a warmer locale, try it and don’t compare to how it was “before.” We’re not in before, we’re in now, with a global pandemic raging everywhere. Relatively soon, we’ll be back with our tribes in person, but in the meantime, if you’re feeling too lonely, try these alternatives. It may stave off the negative health effects and help you feel more connected until we’re able to get those long-missed hugs again.
Thanks again to our guest, Terri Lonowski, and be sure to check out Soulful Listening.
Also, don’t forget to join me for Podcast Wellness Week, November 30 to December 4th for livestreamed panels and sessions, exclusive episodes, daily meditations and more. Head over to podcastwellnessweek.com to register. My panel session is December 2nd at 10am pacific standard time and there will be a lot of very useful information from guest speakers on enhancing your well-being from many perspectives all week. It’s free through the Podbean App, so be sure to check it out.