Social distancing during the pandemic has caused many people to experience the impact of isolation and loneliness. This separation was especially hard on seniors and their families. Now as we seek to reconnect, it is important to understand the negative effects of loneliness on our mental and physical health, and how to bounce back.
For our upcoming Senior Living LIVE! webinar, we talk to Diane Lang, a therapist, educator and life coach dedicated to helping families live positive, healthy lives. Together, we will explore the symptoms of isolation-based depression, the mental and physical toll of loneliness, and how we can learn to experience joy.
Click the video to watch the preview now, and don't forget to register for the full webinar by visiting ArborCompany.com/Loneliness.
- Hello, everyone. Welcome into "Senior Living Live." My name is Melissa. I hope you are having a wonderful day today. We have a very informative webinar coming up here in June with one of our favorite guest speakers, Diane Lang. It is entitled, "The Effects of Loneliness and Bouncing Back." You can catch that webinar at June 22nd at 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time. Diane, so good to see you. How are you?
- Hi, thank you so much for having me back. I am good. The nice weather is here, all is well.
- That's excellent. Now we have many people who will be watching this video, they will also be listening via podcast. So this is sort of a sneak peek of your upcoming webinar about loneliness. And boy, I think we have all been impacted by that. For some, maybe just a little during the pandemic or for many of us a lot. And it's really changed the way we do things, we do everything, the way we view things and the way we view things that we used to enjoy, maybe don't enjoy as much anymore. And we're gonna dive deep into that here today. So first and foremost, Diane why don't you tell the audience a little bit about yourself?
- So I am a therapist and a life coach, I've been in the field for over 20 years. I'm also an adjunct professor at Montclair State University in the undergraduate Psychology Department. As well as teaching at Rutgers University in the graduate School of Social Work. So I've been on both sides of the field for a long time now. But first time through a pandemic and dealing with this type of situation, hopefully the last.
- Yeah, I think we could all agree with that. And the pandemic really did create that perfect storm. Because our only real shield before we had a vaccine was to stay away from others. So many of us did exactly what we were directed to do to try to stay safe, to try to prevent getting this virus. And initially it was a couple of days, couple of weeks, turned into months and then into a year. So what are some of the long-term effects you are seeing from this pandemic as we continue to try to put it behind us?
- You're right, I still remember when it was two weeks to a month, right? We were just going to wait so the hospitals had some time to make sure they can help everybody. A year and three months later, we're finally getting out of it. We could see the silver lining, which is great. But one of the things we're dealing with and we're still currently dealing with is a lot of people have gotten a lot of social anxiety about going back into the world. And it's not about COVID per se, I think most people now feel more confident and safe with the vaccines. And also there's a lot more medicine and treatments just in case somebody does get it, so we're feeling more confident there. But after being locked down for a year and three months it's how do I go back to socialization? How do I go back to spending time, to being friends, to dating, to just going out and doing activities I never did before? I'm seeing people who never had social anxiety pre-COVID having it now because it's been such a long time. And it's been a long time where people actually started getting more comfortable being home, not doing things. And some people did get more comfortable even being alone. It doesn't mean they were happier, but they did feel more comfortable. And to now break outside of that shell, that comfort zone it's feeling really awkward for people. So we're noticing people are very weary about going out. They're more comfortable in their comfort zone of staying in. Which is still leading to some isolation, to loneliness, it could lead to depression. And again, we're seeing people now have a social anxiety that some people did have before, but others never did. And it is definitely going into new norm because things will not just be the way they were, things are forever changed. So it'll be kind of a hybrid life, right? We'll have things that are in person, but we'll also have things that are probably done through virtual. Which is better for the bad weather, if there's any storms or snow or ice or people don't feel good, we can still be participating when before we couldn't. So I want people to also realize that as much as we're having social anxiety of how do we go back to normal? How do I see people? How do I feel? We can continue with some of the virtual, which can make it a smoother transition for some.
- Yeah. Great answer. And we are still struggling. What does the new normal look like? And I think that that is yet to be answered for many people. So what are some of the steps to take to put us on a better path of isolation based depression in order to get out of that?
- Right, so a few things is to remember that if you are feeling loneliness or isolation, those are some top factors of depression. And rightfully so because again, we thought this two weeks to a month, maybe a few months would end. What happens is when we're having stress and anxiety constantly, the way we did for months on end for different reasons, everybody had for different reasons it still could lead to having real anxiety, panic attacks as well as depression. So one of the things I want people to think about is to not judge. We get really critical of ourselves and we judge ourselves where it's really normal and natural to have these feelings, to feel isolated, to feel a lack of control, to feel confusion of what do I do? What does the new norm look like? So I want people to have realistic expectations that it's going to feel kind of awkward, kind of scary and kind of exciting all at one time. So you're gonna have this mix of emotions like a roller coaster ride, normal, natural, please don't judge them. What happens is if we judge ourselves or we become very harsh and critical, like our inner bully comes out then it becomes this vicious cycle of beating ourselves up and then we don't wanna leave at all. So stop the judgment, don't be critical of yourself, know that it's normal and natural to feel this way. And take baby steps, you don't have to jump right into it. One of my clients just said to me the other day, "I couldn't wait till everything opened up." And she's 72 years old, lives alone and she said, "I'm so excited 'cause now I'm out doing things and I'm not sure if I really wanna do everything." And for her, she put herself at 110% thinking that would solve everything that she has felt in the last year or a year and three months. And she realized she overwhelmed herself. So take baby steps. You can do some things virtually, where you don't have to leave the house, worry about traffic. You don't have to put your pants on, you could wear your shorts and your sneakers. And then you can take a few things that you really want to do and see people that you really wanna see. But don't put these unrealistic expectations or think you're missing out, people have that fear. We always hear about FOMO when it comes to like social media, but you can have that too. Like if I don't go to every event, things have been closed am I missing out? It's okay, we don't have to. And it's okay if you're going to bed at 10 o'clock or nine o'clock and you don't wanna do evening things now. A lot of people have changed their schedules and routines and that's okay. Do what works best for you and feels good for you. Baby steps into a smooth, new normal.
- Yeah, and you're so right about it being a little overwhelming. Even the traffic, it seems like it's worse than it was before the pandemic. Everybody wants to be out all the time now. It's a lot, it's a lot to take in especially after the year we've all had. So we all know somebody who says, "Oh, I actually didn't mind the pandemic because I'm an introvert, I prefer being alone." But I think it is true, and help me out here, Diane that we as humans all still need and even appreciate interaction with others. So what would you say to someone who feels, ah, this is okay with me.
- You know it's funny you said that 'cause I had a few people in the beginning of the pandemic for six months like, "This is great, I never even have to worry about doing my hair. I don't have to worry about getting out, traffic, any of it," and they were introverts and they enjoyed it. But even my introverted clients or students after about six months were really having a lot of isolation and loneliness too because we are social creatures. Now, if you're extroverted, it might look different. You might go out with big groups. You might like to do louder events like a concert. But introverts still need socialization. It just might be more one-on-one. It might be at different times of the day, like they won't do a happy hour or a restaurant that's loud at dinner. They'd rather go for lunch or they'd rather go to a park and go for a walk or just have one-on-one time alone. But they still need that socialization. So even if you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert, and again, there's no judgment, no right or wrong, everybody's different really going with what you're feeling. Because loneliness can really be used as an alarm, like a wake up call. If you're feeling that isolation and loneliness it's an alarm going off saying, you need more socialization. That's really what it's saying. And again, it might look different. You might be ready to go to a party or you might just be ready to call one friend or family member and say, "Wanna just meet for lunch?" It doesn't matter what it is, but use what you're feeling as that wake up call to do something. And I like to say that stress, anxiety, loneliness, isolation, all of those feelings that we always give this negative connotation towards are really alarms, like, hey, something is not right. Look into what you're feeling, notice what you're feeling, label it and then move forward with action. So if you need more socialization, do what's comfortable for you but absolutely reach out even for the introverts. Now I'm an extrovert so I need people, I fully admit that. But there are people too who will consider themselves introverted extroverts, which is possible. Those are people who will say, I love people but I know when I've had enough and they refuel and reboot by themselves, you might be one of them. So they need the mix, and that's okay too. Just like my client who said she was overwhelmed, she realizes that she could do one or two great events a week but she doesn't need to book every day. And it's okay she's not missing out to enjoy her own company. And I think a few of my clients have said, "I'm so afraid that if I don't do something what if there's another pandemic or another variant? Am I gonna be stuck in again?" People have that fear, but this time we know different. This is the thing, God forbid that happens, I'm praying that it doesn't. We now know we have the technology to work from home, to be social. We also know we have vaccines, so we can still go out and be safe because we won't end up in the hospital. We've done things to protect, so we're in a different stage so people don't have to go back to that fear that we had 13 months ago. And that's what I want people to remember. So do that self-talk, remind yourself, look at it as a wake up call, an alarm and take action with what you feel is comfortable for you.
- Yeah. Excellent, very, very good stuff there. I love that, good tips. Now, I wanna talk about joy as we start to wrap this up. Because over the last year, many of us have really had to pivot and find other ways to experience joy because a lot of things were taken away from us. And I know personally, I had a hard time with it. I even had one period of time during the pandemic where even something like listening to music that I enjoyed, I just didn't enjoy it anymore. I couldn't find joy. And thankfully that has changed, things have turned around. But maybe there are others out there who it's a little slower of a process for. So how can we move forward and experiencing joy again?
- So remember that whatever you're feeling at this moment is temporary, everything is temporary. So even if right now you're still feeling that struggle, which would be normal, it will pass. The only constant in the world is change. So if you're feeling right now that hopelessness or that lack of control or that confusion, it will change. And joy really is something that is different for everybody, so I want it to be a very individual thing when you're figuring it out. But really ask yourself, what brings you happiness no matter what's going on in the world? Meaning there's a pandemic, you're just sick, you have sinuses, it's raining out, it's a snow storm, what gives you joy no matter what? Because those things will stay no matter what's going on with the external world. But also do notice, there'll be times that that doesn't work. And when we've been locked down for so long, the usual things that made us happy really didn't because everything felt blurred, if that makes sense. It felt like everything was like Groundhog Day. And sometimes we need to go in a little deeper and sometimes we just need to have a talk with a friend or family member or someone we love to just get it out. Sometimes venting it out or writing it down if you're a journal writer, releasing it allows you to move forward. Sometimes we can do simple things as music. 'Cause music is one of the steps that we can take if you're in a bad mood to switch to a good mood. But if that doesn't work, a really other great tip and easy tip to do is just for a minute or two either close your eyes and visualize a really happy time in your life in the past. Whether it was a wedding, a party, a vacation event, doesn't matter what it is. If you have not a good memory like me, take out the pictures, look at the scrapbook, whichever way works, then really visualize and remember that time. Use every ounce of detail, remember with all your senses, really be there for a few minutes. Because our brains can't tell the difference if it's really happening or it's a visualization, so you'll go back to that place and feel it. Like for me, when I was having those bad days I would just close my eyes and visualize when I was in Florida. Right before COVID I was in there at January. And I literally can remember like laying by the pool, smelling the coconut oil for sunscreen, feeling the heat of the sun on my body, hearing the kids because we were at a pool. I was at Disney, so you always hear the kids. I remember what I was wearing, who I was next to and I would just visualize that for a few minutes. Especially in February, when here in the New York area we were having like four feet of snow, no exaggeration, Melissa knows, I was so upset. And so I would use that visualization and that can shift your moods. You have music, you can visualize or you can use sensory using something that reminds you. So I still remember going into one of the arbors in New Jersey. And I used to bring Hershey Kisses when we were back in person. And I remember one of the ladies at, I think it was either the Roseland or, I'm almost sure it was Roseland one or Morris Plains. And I bought her Hershey Kisses and she said, "Why did you bring Hershey Kisses?" And I'm like, "Well, I thought everybody loves chocolate." She goes, "Well, yeah, but that was the chocolate my parents gave me every time I did something well." And I'm like, "Yes," 'cause it's an old school chocolate, it's been around forever. And we all have an emotional connection to a food, whether it's a comfort, whether it's our parents gave it to us every time we did well in school, we've rewarded ourselves. So whether it's grilled cheese and tomato soup or Hershey Kiss and ice cream sundae, whatever it is, cup of hot chocolate, you can really connect to your good time using that too. So music, sensory or just visualizing or using a scrapbook of pictures and just bring yourself back there and it'll give you a way to boost your happiness. So just a few things and we'll go into a lot more in the webinar next week.
- Yeah, and now that it is summer time if that is indeed what we wanna go back to, laying by the pool well, you can kind of visualize that, stepping outside now.
- Yes you could.
- I love that. And I love also that you mentioned the word Groundhog or the term Groundhog Day because I think that's how it felt for many people. I verbalize that so many times, during the pandemic every day just felt the same. And we're starting to get out of it a little bit and every day you have a little bit more, something to look forward to. We're getting there. We're slowly but surely-
- We are.
- But certainly with your help. And Diane, if somebody wants to reach out to you, they're watching this or they're listening via podcast how can they reach you?
- Sure, they can go on to my website which is just my initials, dlcounseling.com. And on there, you can see my email and write me or just join us next Tuesday and I will absolutely answer any questions. But feel free to email me with any questions as well.
- Awesome. Well, Diane Lang, it is June 22nd, Tuesday 4:00 p.m. Eastern. "The Effects of Loneliness and Bouncing Back," that is the webinar. I know many people like myself are looking forward to it, we cannot wait. And we thank you so much for taking the time to preview it with us today.
- Thank you for having me.
- Thank you. Well, to catch this webinar you can head on over to www.seniorlivinglive.com. And while you were there, you can check out our previous webinars, register for this one and see what we've got coming up over the next couple of months. We hope you'll join us June 22nd with Diane Lang. We will see you soon.