Social distancing is weird, we have to admit. I understand why we have to do this, but it is unnatural. It can create a sense of loneliness. You see others but can’t respond in normal ways. Right now, you can’t give a hug or touch a shoulder. You can’t stand close and look into someone’s eyes, kiss your grandchild or extend a warm hand in greeting.

During this time, is there anything good (other than flattening the curve) that comes from social distancing? Some would say, yes. Maybe we are increasing our empathy and finding new ways to connect. As we follow each other on social networks, we can LIKE, comment and feel for others who are posting. For example, I just saw a story on Facebook of a man who was seriously ill from COVID-19. He was in the ICU unable to see anyone and felt incredibly alone. Then, he had a “visit” from a hospital cleaner in his completely isolated room. According to the story, the patient felt God sent someone to encourage him in his darkest moment. Most of us can relate to this story, and can think of times when we were down, needed encouragement and just the right person came along. On the post, people said they were crying. They felt compassion.

We need empathy and we need connection. We are wired for it. Social connection makes a better brain, whereas loneliness creates problems when it occupies the mind and soul. Loneliness is not the result of being alone. It is a feeling that is accompanied by a state of mind. In the brain, social pain and rejection feel like physical pain. You can be in the middle of a crowd of people and still feel alone.

And like the virus, it is believed that loneliness can spread and actually be contagious. Prior to the pandemic, loneliness was already a problem. Here in the U.S., the former Surgeon General called loneliness a growing epidemic. Survey results estimate that one-third of Americans over the age of 45 feel lonely. This is significant because loneliness has a negative health effect similar to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

The good news is that loneliness can be overcome. Here is one place to begin. We discuss others on our show.

If you feel lonely, it is a sign that changes need to be made. Perhaps you need to reach out more to others and cultivate a few good friends. Pick up the phone and start engaging. Be intentional about this. Build a group of friends who have positive attitudes and live with hope. Call them and have a long conversation – one that you didn’t have time for during your busyness. FaceTime your loved ones and smile at them. No excuses now. You have the time. This is your vaccine against a possible bout of loneliness.

Next, combat loneliness by focusing on gratitude. When you intentionally think of the positives your emotional feelings of isolating will begin to shift to the more positive feelings of blessing. Spend time watching the sunset and meditate on the beauty of nature. Take walks and notice the birds and blooming trees this time of year. Look around and you will see beauty.

Strengthen your relationship with God. He promises to never leave or forsake you. He is always your friend. As cliche as that sounds, it is true. When we are lonely, we can turn to the one who sympathizes with our weaknesses. Jesus had many lonely moments, especially in the Garden of Gethsemane and later, when He took our sin to the cross. He knows the feeling and can bring you peace.

Lonely no more

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