Loneliness as an Effect of the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Loneliness and depression during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Loneliness and depression during the COVID-19 pandemic

Although the COVID-19 pandemic (or Coronavirus, if you prefer) has caused abundant death, the toll in terms of depression and loneliness is even more widespread. Former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy reffers to it as a “loneliness epidemic.” Spending so much time in isolation wreaks havoc on our emotions. When we do get out, it is increasingly harder to see the person behind the mask; it is essentially dehumanizing. It can cause what has become known as pandemic dreaming.

Our Brains Operate in Two Modes

Matthew Lieberman is a founder of the field of social cognitive neuroscience and he discovered that our brains operate in two distinct modes. He found that one is utilized for engaging with the physical world around us. Looking for shelter when a hurricane is blowing in, for example. The other for is utilized for considering mental states; it views other people in terms of being psychological entities with distinct thoughts and feelings of their own. He used MRI imaging to show that the second mode, what he called the social brain, is actually the default mode. That could explain our some of our current issues with isolation.

We are Wired to Mingle with Our Fellows

Some 2,348 years ago Aristotle told us that man is by nature a social animal. By in large that is true, although introverts are the chemical exception to the rule; they are more governed by a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, which warms up as they turn their focus inward. Extroverts, on the other hand, are governed more by their dopamine reward network. This is triggered when external stimuli and sensory input happens. In other words, if you are a party animal or used to spend a lot of time at the office moving through the cubical farm gossiping or being a kvetcher, this lock-down is hurting you more that your more taciturn neighbors.

Social Media is a Poor Substitute for Real Interaction

We have all grown used to social media over the years, texts, emails, Facebook, etc. But are these really good substitutes? Not at all, although talking on the phone and Skyping may be marginally better. In fact, social media may make things worse. Just look at how bad and polarized things were even before the lock-down. Does Donald Trump bashing and BLM and Antifa ring a bell? Too many trolls, so little time.

One study conducted in 2018 of 18 – 30-year-olds concluded that the odds of depression were significantly decreased by face-to-face encounters, but significantly raised by interacting via social media. Yet another study discovered that lowering time spent on social media lowered feelings of loneliness in 18- to 22-year-olds.

According to Primack, using social media may be simply a way of projecting a version of ourselves out there or perhaps they’re fostering real social connections we otherwise wouldn’t be able to have. There is just no way to know at this point.

How Can You Cope with Pandemic Loneliness and Depression?

  • Maintain a Schedule. A consistent routine can make things feel more normal. Go to bed at a reasonable hour, use an alarm clock, lunch at noon, tea and scones in the afternoon if you are a subject of the Queen; you get the idea. If you are sick, try keeping a log to monitor your symptoms.
  • Keep Yourself Informed. Staying up to date on health information and advice on precautionary measures will make you feel more proactive and in control of your situation.
  • Learn lucid dreaming. If you are experiencing pandemic dreams, follow these techniques to learn lucid dreaming. I learned it long ago out of curiosity and I’ve been controlling and actively participating in my nocturnal adventures ever since. It is easier for some than others but well worth the effort.
  • Maintain an active lifestyle as much as possible. The authorities want you to stay indoors as much as possible. But, and then this is only my opinion, you can still get out to walk, bike, or run (if allowed where you live). If you must stay in, you can still do resistance exercises with household objects or get up and walk around. My Garmin 235 watch not only counts my steps but also alerts me when I have been sitting too long.
  • Indulge in some self-improvement. Take an online course. Pick up that instrument, dust it off, and start practicing. New Years resolutions are valid anytime. Myself, I’m learning Irish Gaelic. Ta go maith!
  • Stay connected. Use Skype. Watch a Netflix movie at the same time as one or more friends and critique it as it plays. If you have ever watched Mystery Science Theater 3000 you know what I mean! Write letters. Remember when that was a human function?
  • Cook some new comfort food. Here are some of my recipes. I like to experiment much to the chagrin of my wife.

In short, none of us is immune to loneliness as an effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is just good to understand it, accept it, and mitigate it as much as possible.

References:

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

People Experiencing Coronavirus Pandemic Dreams Should Learn Lucid Dreaming

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Lucid dreaming
Lucid dreaming

What are Coronavirus pandemic dreams? In a nutshell, they are dreams that are more intense, strange, and different from the dreams we experienced before society began grinding to a halt and required us to hunker down at home. Dreams are our way of coping with the day’s intense emotions. They happen when in REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. The abrupt withdrawal from our usual environments and daily stimuli has moved many of us to new frontiers of dreaming. This makes it a perfect time to learn lucid dreaming. You can think of it as a late New Years resolution.

What is Lucid Dreaming?

At its basic level, during lucid dreaming, you are simply aware that you are dreaming as opposed to just “remembering” it for a short time after waking. As you get better at the technique you can gain control over the actions in the dream, specifically your actions. Obviously, this can make strange or scary dreams more palatable, but also more fun. Moreover, the practice of learning to lucid dream in order to stop nightmares from occurring or reoccurring is called lucid dreaming therapy.

I learned lucid dreaming years ago when I became fascinated with the concept. I had always been interested not only in the content of my dreams but I wondered why, when as a child, I had the same exact dream every Christmas Eve and another different one on Easter Eve. Both had been filled with symbolism but I was merely an observer. The ability to be a participant was impossible to resist!

Techniques for Learning to Lucid Dream

When practicing these techniques, keep in mind that success is more easily attained for some than others. The key is practice, practice, practice. Be patient; the payoff is well worth it. Make these techniques a daily ritual for the best results. Your abilities will only improve over time.

  • Reality testing: also referred to as reality checking, is a method of mental training. It increases metacognition by training your mind to notice your own awareness. To do this, first ask yourself several times a day, “Am I dreaming?” Next, examine your environment to confirm whether or not you are dreaming. There are several ways to do this. For example, check a clock or your watch several times. If the time only changes slightly this indicates wakefulness. If it changes more than that, you’re likely asleep. Or look in a mirror. Do you look right? Finally, examine your own consciousness and in what ways you’re engaging with your current surroundings.
  • WBTB (Waking Back To Bed): First, set your alarm clock for five hours after your bedtime. Next, go to sleep as usual. When your alarm wakes you, remain awake for 30 minutes indulging in a quiet activity such as reading a book. Obviously, don’t drink coffee. Finally, go back to sleep. This process will make your brain more receptive to lucid dreaming.
  • MILD (Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams): MILD is conceptualized on prospective memory. This means a focus on an intention to do something later, in this case, to remember that you are dreaming. First, as you fall asleep, think of a recent dream you’ve experienced. Recall something that struck you as irregular or strange in the dream such as the ability to fly in the sky. Focus on returning to that specific dream while telling yourself that the thing you found strange only occurs when as you dream. As you do this, tell yourself, “When next I dream, I will remember that I’m dreaming.” Note here that MILD is more effective when you combine it with WBTB (if you’ve been dreaming when your alarm goes off).

Not only is lucid dreaming a helpful tool as we work through the new lifestyle of lockdown and experience Coronavirus pandemic dreams, but it will also be useful (and entertaining) when we finally get back to normal. Learn it now; you will look forward to bedtime.

Looking for more great content? Visit our partner sites:

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Visit Kelly’s profile on Pinterest.

About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.