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When the Silver Linings Tarnish

Imagine a scenario in which more than 75% of the population are experiencing irritability, depression, and disrupted sleep. Other symptoms include high blood pressure, compromised immune system and cognitive decline. Doctors report that people with this condition have a higher risk of premature death by 26%. Now, add an infectious virus with no vaccine into the mix.

Welcome to COVID2020.

The pandemic has affected all of us in different ways on different days. Mental health experts largely agree that the pandemic has escalated into nationwide psychological trauma. According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation study, nearly half the people in the United States feel the coronavirus crisis is harming their mental health and the vast majority of us are feeling more lonely.

To be honest, it’s been a roller coaster for me. I’m up and I’m down. Some days, I’m feeling the #inthistogether vibe and I am determined to find the silver linings. I’ve even considered that this is the universe interrupting life’s regularly scheduled programming for an introspective time out to:

Take inventory of what is really important.

Prioritize people over stuff.

Prioritize life over work.

Find the silver linings.

Practice the pause.

Count blessings.

Be grateful.

I get it. But, some days, it all just sucks. Screw the silver linings, you know?

The coronavirus has spared no one the stress of uncertainty. We all have days that are darkened by woes about money or work or longing for a night out with friends or a hug from someone special. But for those who already struggle with depression and anxiety, the critical stressor is the social disconnectedness. And, if your “love languages” are physical touch and quality time, the isolation and loneliness can be suffocating.

Since we’ve adopted these new social rules, loneliness is creating a new crisis. According to a recent study, more than 60% of Americans reported feeling chronically lonely even before the outbreak, when they had all kinds of options. Now with the current restrictions, there are two pandemics at work and each exacerbates the other. Science shows that loneliness decreases the body’s defenses against disease and is as strong a risk factor for morbidity and mortality as smoking, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, high blood pressure, and cardiac disease.

The side effects of quarantine and social lockdown look a lot like clinical depression: withdrawn, hopeless, fatigued, unmotivated, sleeping too much or not enough, eating too much or not enough, lonely. There are few things more isolating than feeling depressed, and nothing intensifies depression more than isolation.

What makes this pandemic so traumatic is that the depression fuels the anxiety and the anxiety fuels the depression. Many of us are mourning what we’ve lost and feeling sad and hopeless about what has already happened. At the same time are sick with worry about the future holds. We are socially isolated, feeling helpless, worried about staying healthy and paying the bills, grieving those we’ve lost, and mentally exhausted from all the stinking thinking.

Loneliness is different from being alone. It’s when you feel no one is there for you. It’s an ache to connect with someone, to be heard and loved.

Imagine another scenario. You’re sitting at a table four friends, family members or colleagues. Maybe you’re in a conference room, a church function, a PTA meeting or a restaurant. Statistically speaking, pre-pandemic three of you were experiencing loneliness, depression, or anxiety. So much so that your blood pressure is elevated, your sleep is fragmented, your sympathetic nervous system is in overdrive, your immune system is compromised, and your brain is struggling to operate normally. Today, that number jumps to four.

Four out of five of us are struggling right now.

If you are one of them, reach out to someone you trust for love and support. If you’re doing okay today, look around for someone who isn’t. Chances are really high that someone you really care about could use a little care and compassion right now – and most won’t come out and ask for it.

It’s really hard to say the words out loud. “I’m lonely.” It sounds weak and pathetic. Maybe it feels selfish because there is always someone who is worse off than you. But here’s the thing… we’re social creatures with an innate need to connect with others and feel a sense of belonging.

Give yourself permission to feel whatever it is that you’re feeling.

Don’t dismiss it.

Acknowledge it.

Raise your hand.

Reach out to someone you trust. Tell another human being that you’re feeling disconnected, that you’re struggling, or just that you need a safe place to laugh or talk or cry. Use whatever words you need to use, but reach out.

The silver linings are still there, but we all have days when they look old and worn like they’ve lost their luster…tarnished. On those days, it can be really tough to find the shine all by yourself. And right now, we have enough tough stuff going on.

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