I have worked from home for the last 8 years, and I am someone who LOVES working from home. When the pandemic hit I assumed nothing would really change for me as I already worked from home and enjoy my own company. I live with my partner, who is also my best friend, and our dogs, so I had plenty to keep me occupied as I settled into lock down. As happens in these situations, it didn’t work out quite the way I expected.
Like so many others I was furloughed from my job. I’ve been employed all my adult life and paid taxes. I’ve never been so grateful for paying tax as that moment when the Government paid some of my wage. When I first heard that I was being furloughed, I cried. That might seem like a strange response to people reading this, but I have always prided myself in my work. For the first time in my career I felt expendable, as though my contribution wasn’t of value. More than that, I felt like I was no longer of value. But, like so many others affected by the pandemic, I pulled up my “big girl pants” and cracked on. I caught up on all the household jobs I’d been putting off as I never had time and decorated my office ready for what I thought would be my return to work with a fresh mind.
It was not to be, instead the guillotine of redundancy chopped off the head of my ambition, my future plans and dreams. I was fortunate, I found another job and started within a month of my redundancy notice. But…it was different. I was no longer in a senior position in an industry I knew with lots of work colleagues, meetings and contacts. I was floating in the unknown waters of a completely new industry working at home as an administrator within a small team
Overall, in amongst the myriad of emotions and thoughts running amok, the overriding experience was one of gratitude and relief.
What caught me out was the sense of isolation these changes instigated.
I didn’t see that coming.
I was the ultimate island, a person who is perfectly happy and comfortable in my own company with just my canine companions. I couldn’t fathom it, how could I be feeling lonely and isolated?
I’ve since come to realise that I may have worked from home, but I worked with colleagues who were also friends with regular conversations throughout the day. I hadn’t fully appreciated the connection I had with the other person/people and the sense of belonging I experienced through those conversations.
Loneliness and isolation, and the impact on our wellbeing, is coming to the forefront of our minds like never before, with Government and organisations trying to balance the health impact and mortality rate of the pandemic, with social and mental health needs alongside the economy. Mental health issues aren’t arising just from lockdowns and isolation, but also from job losses and the economic disaster that has been driven by this pandemic.
Loneliness isn’t something that happens to others, we can all feel lonely at times (as I have become acutely aware of), even when with other people, if we don’t feel we are connected. Most will have experienced being with a group of people, but still feeling lonely and disconnected. So, it’s important to remember that loneliness doesn’t automatically occur when we are alone. We can feel lonely when with other people, and we can feel perfectly happy alone if we feel we are connected or can connect when we want to with others.
When we are isolated and feel lonely for extended periods of time (I’m using the word “extended” rather than a definitive timeframe as the timeframe will vary by individual and our unique personalities) our self-esteem and confidence can be impacted, and we can experience changes in our body and mind. We might begin to withdraw further from others, even when they reach-out to us, as we’ve lost our confidence and desire to connect even whilst feeling lonely. We can experience increased tiredness and lethargy with decreasing motivation. Our eating patterns and habits may change, further impacting body and mind. We can experience a feeling of anxiety when we go out or plan to speak to people, as we’ve lost our confidence or purely due to feeling demotivated and tired. Isolation and loneliness is by no means “just feeling alone”, the impacts can be wide ranging. Loneliness can be an all-consuming feeling, but also brings our thoughts into play, as loneliness involves a perception of our relationships, and the belief that our relationships don’t meet our needs. So, we have a double whammy of feeling lonely and thinking lonely!
Many will be familiar with the idea that people are social by our very nature. We have a need to belong, yes even the introverts among us (of which I include myself) need to feel connected with a sense of belonging. Baumeister and Leary suggest that we all need interpersonal relationships that are positive with longevity and a felt experience that we are cared for. Yet, it isn’t based on how often we have contact with others, as we’ve already mentioned we can feel disconnected and feel that we don’t belong when with others, leading to us to experience loneliness. It’s the quality of relationships and feeling that we belong to a group. We can trace this need back to our ancient ancestors and the very need to survive. But as we come forward to modern society the need to belong seems more pervasive. Back in 1974 (yes researchers have been studying this for a long time!) Weiss identified 6 areas were our relationships hold sway, these include attachment, social integration, opportunity for nurturance, reassurance of worth, reliable alliance and guidance. Since then, other researchers, such as Parkhurst and Hopmeyer, have looked to expand the list to include intimacy, affection, sense of meaning and enjoyable stimulation. Given that the need to belong is so intrinsic to our nature, is it any wonder that isolation and loneliness can have such significant consequences?
With lockdowns, and a significant increase in the number of people working from home, how do we improve and recapture our sense of belonging and connectedness?
There are some things we can do to help ourselves as much as possible. Firstly, keeping ourselves as well as possible physically, so eating a diet that is right for us, getting outside to exercise, reducing the alcohol and caffeine we consume and drinking plenty of water. These might sound basic, but if we aren’t treating ourselves right physically, we are less likely to have the drive and motivation to connect with others. Ensure each day we wash and put on day clothes. Again basic, but this gives us a psychological boost by preparing us for the day and keeping a routine.
Connect with others through the various technologies have access to, even if you don’t feel motivated to do so. I’m a horror for avoiding a phone call when I’m not feeling tip-top. But that phone call, or video call might be the thing that helps us stay tip-top! Talk to others about how you are feeling. If there is to be a positive from this pandemic, it’s how much more we are talking about loneliness, not just in the elderly population - but in everyone. You’ll be surprised at how many others will be right there with you, living similar experiences if one person has the courage to say – “I’m feeling really lonely and it’s making me feel down”.
References and sources of support:
Beaumeister, R. F. and Leary, M. R. (1995) The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 497 – 529
Parkhurst, J. T. and Hopmeyer, A. (1999) Developmental change in the sources of loneliness in childhood and adolescence: Constructing a theoretical model. In K. J. Rotenberg and S. Hymel (Eds), Loneliness in childhood and adolescence (p 56 – 79), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Weiss, R. S. (1974) The provisions of social relationships. In Z. Rubin (Ed), Doing Unto Others (p 17 – 26) Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall
Do it: www.do-it.org
Age UK: www.ageuk.org.uk