The pandemic has had a sweeping impact on multiple facets of the lives of people. We talk about the changes that have come about in the need to transition from offline to online modes.
We look at the significant problems in maintaining job security, the financial distress many went through due to job loss. There is even discussion around anxiousness and depression.
But a variable that insidiously has risen through the cracks and come to surround the lives of many is loneliness.
Loneliness is not an element that has come about today. It has been in existence since many years as societies have undergone transitions and family structures have shifted from being joint to nuclear.
As work has gained prominence and the desire to do more, achieve more and live better lives have become driving forces, there has also been a growing disconnect from people and places.
There has been a narrowing of focus from what goes on and is around to what goes on with and within me. These processes have been further heightened during the pandemic.
The Experience of Loneliness During the Pandemic
The pandemic created a scenario where people were forced to isolate, quarantine and let go of the social fabric they had constructed around themselves.
From being in a situation where one could step out, meet people, be distracted from the problems of daily living and again pick up from where one left off the next day suddenly there was a completely different situation confronting everyone.
You could not step out, meet anyone or be distracted from the things of daily life. From being something which was seemingly going to be for a few weeks it was stretched to a month and then a couple of months and now we are talking about years of living an altered life.
The greatest challenge that emerged was suddenly there was a need to know who your neighbours were. People had to make the effort with connecting with others within the community they were living in.
Schooling and work needed to transition to an entirely experimental space, challenging the best of people and their resilience to cope with things.
Concurrently the option of escaping from one reality to another was no longer available.
And there was the real threat of things collapsing as it became evidently clear over time that life as we know would shift and for many this meant a loss of livelihood and eventually for many the loss of people and relationships.
The pandemic in a most unobtrusive way found a path towards highlighting the superficiality with which people were living and the strong disconnect that had gripped their lives without them even recognizing or realizing it.
What this meant was people were confronted with realities that were not of their choosing and that perturbed them and disrupted their state of equilibrium.
The Learning We All Got
The pandemic has provided innumerable insights. It has highlighted very strongly the need to build support systems. Having relationships in place where there is a true sense of connectedness is critical to the well-being of all individuals.
People cannot live in isolation and the virtual world, despite its ability to provide for platforms to view and connect with what goes on in the outside world, cannot substitute for the real relationships we need.
Focusing on and bringing ourselves into the fold of our relationships is crucial.
It is important to attend to them and nurture them and ensure that we are doing all that is needed to build reciprocal relationships around us – at home, within our communities, with extended families, with old friends and at our workplaces.
It is also important that we work towards recognizing the varying ways in which we may have been avoiding taking cognizance of the things which may need to be taken care of within our lives.
This pertains to our own selves – our health and well-being, to the lives we are constructing and the ways in which we are engaging with the environment.
Just moving from one moment to the next, telling ourselves and others around us that we are busy and do not have the time, space, energy or bandwidth to expend towards being reflective and to introspect cannot hold water.
The pandemic has critically highlighted that to combat an issue like loneliness measures need to be brought into play at the level of the individual as well as within communities at large.
There needs to be a responsive way of responding to people and situations.
Acknowledging the problem is an imperative but so is the need to proactively working towards fixing it. Individuals need to be more expressive about what they need for their well-being and to make better choices about how they would want life to look like.
And this needs to be supported by communities, workplaces and even at the level of policies.
Change is needed and that change has to be enacted at multiple levels and the agency rests within each individual to herald that shift in order to combat this large scale problem of loneliness that is slowly but steadily creeping into the lives of many.
Our narrow differences become immaterial when viewed from the lens of the impact that the pandemic has had on all.
There is a need to take stock and make more conscious, mindful choices about the life we want to create – not just for our own individual selves but also for the generations to come.
Simply raising questions is not enough. It is instead important to proactively take measures that would allow us to build more meaningful and purposive lives.
(Dr Samir Parikh is a Psychiatrist and Kamna Chhiber is a Clinical Psychologist- they are authors of the recently released book “ ALONE IN THE CROWD”.)