Loneliness in the Time of COVID-19


“If you are finding yourself struggling with loneliness, you’re not alone. And yet you are alone. So very alone.”

“Language… has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone.”
—Paul Tillich

This imposed social isolation, often termed solitude, is not simply a lack of contact with people. It’s ironic when I hear the word solitude and think of Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, a self-imposed exile from man, but a place that would have portals to other experiences to enhance Superman’s knowledge of … well, life, the universe, and everything.

So, when do we step over the threshold from solitude to loneliness?

When we feel loneliness.

Loneliness can occur for so many reasons, socially, physically, and emotionally: separation of friends and loved ones, temporarily or permanently; being asked to leave a social circle or group; being physically handicapped and not feeling accepted; going through postpartum depression; and especially after surviving a divorce. When a person is so filled with rage or resentment or any feeling to the extreme, isolation can be the outcome.

But mandated to isolate, “station-in-place,” imprison ourselves, our homes becoming a jail cell, our government our jailers—all because of a murderous plague. How different is that than self-imposed isolation? Very!” You would shout loudly. I didn’t choose to isolate, I didn’t choose to change my life and job, and be incarcerated with my children and partner 24/7! I didn’t choose what is happening to my friends, town, county, state, etc. …

The existentialists, especially Sartre, believe that loneliness is part of the human condition. After all, we are born alone, walk through life (or stumble) alone, and die alone—no matter how many people touch our lives. Our desire to have meaning in life sometimes conflicts with the “nothingness” we fear is out there. Loneliness and the fear of nothingness go hand-in-hand.

And there is no better test for the “meaning in life” and “loneliness” than COVID-19.

According to a Time magazine story (“COVID-19 is Making America’s Loneliness Epidemic Even Worse,” by Annie Flanagan), a Social Pro survey of 1,228 people ages 18 to 75 predominantly living in English-speaking countries found that at least 20% of respondents from each age group polled were lonelier than usual as a result of coronavirus. Millennials were among the most likely age groups to feel lonely before COVID-19, research shows, and that’s no different now; 34% of millennials in the survey said they were “always or often” lonelier due to the pandemic.

Those feeling lonelier because of the pandemic

Always or Often (first line)
Sometimes (second line)
Never (third line)

Loneliness - chart

Gender wasn’t a predictor, either: about 25% of women and 30% of men said they felt coronavirus-related loneliness.

Nor does living situation necessarily dictate feeling. Caitrin Gladow, 41, has spent the last two months at home in New Orleans with her husband and three young kids—but she says she’s never felt more alone, according to the article. She says she has zero emotional energy for self-care. “Even in a house full of screaming children who I love more than anything, I find that I feel especially vulnerable,” Gladow says. She feels an unspoken pressure “to be the glue of the family, and I’m trying not to let them down, but in the process I’m crumbling.”

If you harbor loneliness, you are nursing it, and it can turn into depression. Depression, like loneliness, affects your thinking and how you feel, but also your behavior. When we reach that depth of loneliness, soul depth, what is real or what is imagined no longer matters. Darkness pervades our thoughts and actions, and loneliness eats away our resolve and resistance. We have “zero emotional energy for self-care,” but also for the care of others. Waking up in the morning is an extreme chore.

Many suffer a quiet, destructive loneliness that we cannot see or measure. If you feel this type of loneliness, you need to share your thoughts and feelings with someone close to you. Once it is shared, and someone touches you with understanding, and help, loneliness dissolves.