Stuck in isolation
“Many people have acclimated themselves to being alone, and now it is their new normalcy."
By DAVID STONE, Our Town Temple
Three Dog Night was right all those years ago: One is indeed the loneliest number. But because of isolation resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s a number 40 million Americans have dealt with for months, and many millions still do.
What is loneliness? According to Dr. David Blackburn, a clinical psychologist at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center in Temple, loneliness develops when people are alone and get bored with themselves.
“People who have very limited social contact often become lonely,” he said. “During the last two years — even after mandates were lifted — there has been an increase in isolation because of COVID. As most families reconnect and people return to their pre-pandemic lifestyles, some people are continuing to isolate.”
“Many have acclimated themselves to being alone, and now it is their new normalcy,” he said. “You might say they are stuck in isolation.”
While the pandemic brought many health issues — long-term breathing problems, heart complications, chronic kidney impairment and stroke — one of the most overlooked has been depression.
In America, an estimated one in three people are affected by loneliness, and one in 12 are severely affected and suffer from depression.
“Depression can set in when a person feels all alone, sad and discouraged,” Dr. Blackburn said. “It brings about anxiety, and they worry about things that are beyond their control.”
“My caseload has increased since the advent of COVID,” he said. “Patients who have a history of anxiety or depression are having more difficulty than usual. Their problems are compounded, and that increases the level of depression.”
Increased anxiety and depression also increase thoughts and consideration of suicide.
During the pandemic, about four in 10 adults in the US reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, compared to one in 10 adults who reported between January and June 2019.
"Experiences such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts have been more prevalent during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly for youth and young adults, caregivers, frontline workers, and people of color," said Dr. Christine Moutier, chief medical officer at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Dr. Moutier stressed that it’s important to understand that COVID-19 and associated disease-control efforts such as physical distancing don’t cause suicide.
“An individual's personal risk factors combined with isolation, depression, anxiety and economic stress may lead to periods of increased risk of suicide,” she explained.
Loneliness is a universal condition that makes a person irritable, self-centered, depressed and is associated with a 26 percent increase in the odds of premature mortality.
“Loneliness — living alone with poor social connections — can be as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day,” Dr. Moutier said. “It is actually worse for you than obesity.”
According to Drs. Blackburn and Moutier, loneliness and social isolation are associated with an increased risk of developing coronary heart disease and stroke. It increases the risk of high blood pressure, and puts individuals at greater risk of cognitive decline and dementia.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the number of Americans over 50 who experience loneliness will reach 2 million by 2025, a 49 percent increase since 2016. More than half-a-million older people go five days a week without seeing or speaking to anyone.
According to Dr. Blackburn, lonely people often suffer from limited social contact.
“Many of us interact with others online or through a Zoom call, but that’s not the same thing as in-person contact,” he said. “Some people went from a life full of social contact before the pandemic to nothing —an abrupt shift. Now, a gradual increase in socialization is needed.”
Dr. Blackburn said loneliness can affect anyone at any age, but it is common in older people.
“It’s especially common among older individuals who were married for years but are now alone,” he said. “They have difficulty accepting that their spouse is no longer around, and it can be difficult to face life if they don’t fill that void.”
“People need to engage in pleasurable activities,” he said. “Online socializing is better than nothing, but a lot of people need to increase in-person interactions.”
“Volunteer, join a club, get involved with a church or social group,” Dr. Blackburn said. “Try to reconnect with people — filling the void is the first step toward reversing loneliness.”
According to Dr. Blackburn, loneliness can become amplified during holidays such as Christmas, Thanksgiving or Valentine’s Day.
“An isolated person may hope to have a Hallmark holiday, and it never happens,” he said. “So instead of happiness, the holidays create a source of dread.”
Another option to fighting loneliness is adopting a dog.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, dogs can contribute to your happiness. Studies show that dogs reduce stress, anxiety and depression, ease loneliness, encourage exercise and improve your all-around health.
For example, people with dogs have lower blood pressure and are less likely to develop heart disease — just playing with dogs has been shown to elevate oxytocin and dopamine, creating positive feelings and bonding for both the person and their pet.
Young merchants hold up their wares during the April Market in Downtown Temple. The Occasional Cupcake, below, is always a popular booth during the monthly market. The next market has been set for May 14. David Stone photos
today’s best bets
CVPA Spring Musical: The College of Visual & Performing Arts at UMHB presents the spring musical at 2:30 p.m. in the Baugh Performance Hall inside the Mayborn Performing Arts Center.
The Lone Star Gun Show will be at The Expo from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.. The event will include new and used guns, knives, swords, hunting gear, books, coins, medals, ammo, reloading equipment and gun supplies. $7 for adults, kids 12 and under are free.
Madame’ Brazil drag show at Corky’s. Doors open at 5 p.m. and the show starts at 6. VIP tickets are $25 for up-close seating. General admission is $15. Standing loft tickets, which give a birds eye view from the upstairs balcony, are $10.
Cody Ellinger live at Barrow Brewing at 4 p.m.
To include your events in What’s Happening, email information to OurTownTemple@gmail.com. Photos are welcome to for use in the publication as space permits!