Use Christmas to cure the isolation


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My wife is worried about me. She is concerned that I spend too much time by myself, and that I haven’t stayed in contact with many people I had good relationships with prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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My wife is worried about me. She is concerned that I spend too much time by myself, and that I haven’t stayed in contact with many people I had good relationships with prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

She’s read news reports about the adverse effects of isolation on men, particularly those who are middle-aged and older. In an article published on the Psychology Today website, for example, Dr. Avrum Weiss writes “Loneliness is not only an unpleasant feeling; it is an interpersonal impairment that causes significant harm in the lives of men … Loneliness is a risk factor comparable to smoking, obesity, and high blood pressure. Loneliness in men is correlated with cardiovascular disease and stroke; 80 per cent of successful suicides are men, and one of the leading contributing factors is loneliness.”

A report on the Canadian Association for Mental Health website says people living in isolation “may experience a wide range of feelings, including fear, anger, sadness, irritability, guilt or confusion. They may find it hard to sleep … Humans are social creatures and need connection to others to thrive.”

An article published on the UCLA Health website says “Loneliness increases cancer risk by 10 per cent, regardless of age, socioeconomic status, lifestyle and other risk factors.” It listed several other possible health impacts of loneliness: dementia and cognitive decline, depression, heart disease, impaired immunity, obesity and premature death.

My wife’s concerns are probably justified, but I enjoy peace and quiet. I often need time to think about issues or problems without noise and interruption. Writing columns is, by its nature, a solitary business.

It’s just that all the social distancing and isolation prompted by the pandemic caused most of us to take isolation to an extreme, and many of us have stayed that way. Relationships that existed pre-COVID have kind of shriveled through lack of contact and attention.

I know I’m not the only one in this situation. Indeed, the CBC reported earlier this year that more than half of Canadians felt that their mental health had worsened during the first two years of the pandemic. In other words, it’s a community-wide problem.

The pandemic disrupted our basic lines of communication and interaction with others. It broke the many connections that make a community healthy and active. And, even as we attempt to live our lives despite the ongoing threat of COVID and other respiratory illnesses, we see the impact social distancing and isolation measures are still having.

For example, attendance at many sporting events, concerts, churches and shopping malls is way down. Like me, many people have found there is a universe of entertainment and retail options that can be enjoyed in our homes, far away from crowds. I can watch every Winnipeg Jets and Blue Bombers game (home and away) from the comfort of my living room, without any of the ticket and travel costs. Through my computer, there are plenty of fun things I can do to fill each day.

When the pandemic lockdowns started, online retail and entertainment services (Amazon and Netflix are obvious examples) responded with quick, reliable access at home to all the food, product and entertainment choices we needed. Those companies got us through the pandemic, but they also changed our behaviour. We learned it was very easy to stay home and avoid the hassle and expense of driving to get many of the products we want. Why go to the mall when you can get free next-day delivery?

But we can’t ignore the evidence that all convenience — and the isolation it indirectly facilitates — isn’t good for us. It’s literally killing some of us.

What do we do in response? How do we stop behaviour that is so dangerous, yet so darn convenient?

There are many resources online that give good advice on ways to avoid isolation and the impacts it has on our health. The Mayo Clinic website recommends we “Find time each day to make virtual connections by email, texts, phone or video chat.”

The CAMH website encourages us to “Create and stick to a schedule for work, leisure, chores, meals, physical activity and sleep … Do things that you normally love to do (for example, crosswords, puzzles, reading, TV shows, listening to music).”

The UCLA website suggests we schedule time to connect with extended family and friends. “Begin by keeping the social time short and simple. That way it won’t feel like a chore. Once you regularly reconnect with people you trust, you’ll be able to share your feelings and strengthen those relationships.”

Christmas is often characterized as a season of joy, but for many in our community it is a season of sadness and solitude. Over the next few days, think about the people in your life who you haven’t heard from in awhile; who seem to have faded away. Give them a call or send them an email. Check on them and see how they are doing. Be the friend they might need, and I will try to do the same.

Who knows, we might find some joy this Christmas. We might even save a life, possibly ours.


» Twitter: @deverynross

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