Spring. We all wait for it – a time of renewal when we’re no longer housebound by temperatures and days too short. We look forward to planting our gardens, exercising, and connecting with neighbors, friends, and extended relatives. Or at least, we used to look forward to these things every spring.
As a culture, we have yet to recover from COVID when it comes to finding inspiration and companionship in our communities. We’ve seen that as a local and national community, we haven’t recovered as we have from other traumas in our history, as adults and youth continue to suffer from loneliness and its related depression and anxiety following the pandemic.
Long-Term Habitual Loneliness
As a recent story in the Atlantic (“How We Learned to be Lonely”) explained, “communities can be amazingly resilient after traumas.” Often, the author states, the worst conditions bring out the best in people who are working for their own and their neighbors’ recovery. But COVID has been resistant to this historical phenomenon.
The story goes on to explain that we’re in a “long-term crisis of habitual loneliness” as a result of relationships that were severed due to COVID and never reestablished. In addition, our skills for building new relationships are diminished. For most of us, isolation is no longer necessary from a public health standpoint, and yet, it persists and is compounded by a link to depression and anxiety, and even suicide – as referenced by the CDC.
So how do we recover? The obvious answer is to get out, to take a class, to invite your neighbors over, or to get together with an old friend you haven’t seen since in some time.
But as our Clinical Director Specialist Luke Spiegelhoff references, it’s like physics - an object at rest tends to stay at rest. In other words, the lonelier we or our children become, the more it impacts our ability to deal with our distress and the harder it is to take that first step. It’s just easier to sit in front of the TV. Even when we know we’ll feel happier once we go to dinner with our friend, our depression causes us to believe that this isn’t true.
People who are depressed can experience a lack of pleasure – often caused by having stopped doing those very things that bring pleasure, like connecting with members of our community. As reflected in a recent Wall Street Journal piece, “we need an entire community to feel whole…being around different people brings out different sides of our own identity.”
Do Then Feel
Some advice from Luke Spiegelhoff is to “do then feel” – we need to we need to take a first step to begin to feel better, to feel happier. Try to break out of the cycle you’re in and proactively manage your environment and activities by taking baby steps, such as greeting your neighbor and starting a conversation, or going out to a coffee shop and greeting your barista.
If trying something new, like joining a book club, taking an exercise class, or volunteering with a local nonprofit scares you, ask a trusted friend to participate with you, or ask them to go for a walk or make dinner together. When a friend reaches out to invite you to do something, remember to express gratitude, and if you need to, feel free to practice socialization in advance by identifying a few icebreakers you can use to help you initiate a conversation. Call a relative you haven’t connected with for some time and ask them lots of questions. Don’t forget to be an engaged listener – respond to what’s being shared versus being worries about what to say next. In no time, you’ll realize conversation comes easier than you may have thought.
Helping Youth Reconnect with Others
Youth are most at risk when their whole world is online. For youth in your care, they may need a little more help to try new activities and connect to new people. An easy first step is connecting them with peers they’re already talking with at school or online to reinforce in-person relationships - remember it’s easier to resurrect previous connections than it is to try to create brand new ones.
Youth, like many adults, are more likely to try something if their friend is doing it. Explore with your child what activities their friends are doing that they’d be interested in trying. Find opportunities and activities they might normally do alone and encourage they invite a friend to tag along. The key is to get them out of their heads and involved in something external to themselves.
Nexus Family Healing is a national nonprofit mental health organization that restores hope for thousands of children and families who come to us for outpatient/community mental health services, foster care and adoption, and residential treatment. For over 50 years, our network of agencies has used innovative, personalized approaches to heal trauma, break cycles of harm, and reshape futures. We believe every child is worth it — and every family matters. Learn more at nexusfamilyhealing.org.