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How to Bust Loneliness Amid Social Distancing and Quarantining

By Judy Holland

Before “coronavirus” crossed the tips of our tongues, we were living in an age of dangerous social isolation. Loneliness can compromise the immune system, lead to inflammation associated with heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s and more. Too much isolation makes people far less likely to flourish.

More than one-third of Americans aged 45 and older say they are lonely, according to a national survey by the AARP. Lonely adults are less likely to be involved in activities that build a social network, such as going to religious services, volunteering, joining a community group, or spending time on a hobby.

They are more likely to spend their time sleeping, eating, watching television, and sitting in front of a computer screen. And they are more inclined to use drugs and alcohol. Families with elderly or sick members are dealing with even stricter isolation in an attempt to prevent covid-19 in this vulnerable population. Now that we’ve been catapulted into the most widespread pandemic since the Spanish flu in 1918, with “social distancing” widely adopted nationwide and throngs ordered to self-quarantine, we need to find safe new ways to bust isolation and bolster resilience.

How can we respond to this coronavirus to preserve our psychological well-being?

These science-based approaches can help us prepare for the toll of prolonged social isolation:

· Connect to sources of meaning. Focus on purpose, meaning and serving something larger than yourself. That might mean writing, painting, exercise, meditation, cooking, studying, teaching online, dropping off supplies or calling a neighbor. Engage in an activity you perceive as giving back or morally good. Focus on behaviors that align with your values. What makes you get up in the morning?

· Create structure with a schedule and new routines. Wake up at your usual time. Shower, get dressed, stick to your usual meal times. Pick up a new activity like guitar. Read or listen to an audio book. Learn new skills. Play games or puzzles. Learn a new trick from YouTube. Clean out your closets! Donate what you don’t need.

· Get exercise, sunshine and focus on self-care. Take long walks outside. Spend time in nature. Focus on nutrition. Connect with others safely.

· Don’t over rely on avoidance strategies. Stop “mal-adaptive behaviors.” To avoid anxious thoughts, we might drink or and eat too much or binge-watch Netflix shows but these strategies are only temporary escapes. Think of anxiety as a little tiger. When we feed the tiger, he goes away and for a while we are good. But then he comes back bigger.

· Be aware of negative thoughts and emotions. Acknowledge them with no judgment and let them go. This stems from mindfulness and bolsters psychological health.

· View this crisis as an opportunity: It is a break in the busyness of life, which provides an opportunity for psychological growth. When we become quieter and slow down a bit, there’s a chance to reflect on our lives, revaluate priorities and what makes us tick. This is a really stressful and transformational time with lots of sacrifices to be made. But there’s a chance we will emerge more resilient and with an increased sense of what really matters in the world.

About Judy Holland

Judy Holland is the author of Happinest. An empty nest does not have to be an empty life. Judy Holland shows you how to get back in touch with yourself, your partner, your life, AND your kids when the house is less-populated.

The transition to the empty nest creates a void that can catapult you into existential crisis. Your zeal for climbing the career ladder, striving for social status, and collecting material things starts to subside, as is common in middle age. Friends and relatives may suffer from illness or pass away, bringing jarring reminders of mortality that trigger a need to make sense of it all.

HappiNest helps you traverse this passage with grace by distilling the latest social science research and drawing from hundreds of interviews with those who have gone before you. Whether you’re seeking a renaissance in your romantic relationship, dealing with a boomerang child at home, or figuring out how to support aging parents, this book is for you.

HappiNest explores a variety of challenges that arise when the house is suddenly empty or emptying, and Judy Holland provides tips and tools for managing the emotions and realities of this new life stage. From dealing with friends, career transitions, rekindling love or leaving a marriage, to reconnecting with genuine interests and passions, this road map will help guide you. There are hills, valleys, thickets, briar patches, and ditches ahead, as well as waterfalls that resolve into pristine ponds. With mindfulness, hard work, and knowledge of experiences, research, and wisdom from seasoned empty nesters, you can create the most golden phase of your life.

Judy Holland has been a journalist for more than 30 years, including in the Washington Bureau of Hearst Newspapers as national editor and Capitol Hill correspondent, where she prepared stories for 600 newspapers over The New York Times wire. Her stories have appeared in the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Houston Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, Tampa Tribune, and Washingtonian magazine. She was president of the Washington Press Club Foundation, a nonprofit celebrating female pioneers in journalism. She also was founder and editor-in-chief of, an online magazine for parents of teens, for which she wrote stories, edited columns, and co-produced videos. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband John Starr and their Great Dane, whom her three children, Lindsay, Maddie and Jack, left home to fill the empty nest.

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