Do you feel hungry?
When I was fifteen, I was anorexic. I starved myself. There was an emptiness inside me. I wanted to control it. The thing I was starving for was acceptance and being seen. I was lonely in a way. Today I am anything but anorexic. The feeling of being hungry through loneliness and isolation is very present right now.
Now we are all alone
What does that do to us?
A warm hug to greet you, a quick stroke on the arm that says, "I understand", or "I feel for you". The handshake. The physical approach as a sign of solidarity, "Yes, I think so too", "We understand each other". These are all gestures of endearment that are currently forbidden outside our own family bubble. What does that do to us?
I often read and hear these days that chronically ill people are used to being alone and cope better than healthy people. Maybe that was true for the first Lockdown. Lockdown - was that something new?
During the second lockdown, we find ourselves in a situation with many questions that cannot yet be answered. Chronically ill people do not have so many social contacts, but none at all is also too little.
A precision landing
Loneliness through imposed social isolation
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT for short, published the results of its latest study in the middle of the pandemic. It was an absolute precision landing! For the first time, it was shown in humans that both hunger and loneliness leave the same signal traces in a deep area of the brain. This area determines impulses for reward and motivation. What the researchers found out is something we have all been experiencing in our own bodies, in our own souls, on different levels, for a year. Rarely has an evidence-based explanation been so quickly at hand.
What does the prescribed asceticism do to us?
Most of us don't really know the feeling of hunger anymore. We know the gnawing feeling in our stomachs when we forget to eat or go shopping because we are so engrossed in work. But nowadays there are petrol stations, delivery services, and so someone who has enough money doesn't have to go hungry. By hungry, I don't just mean a slightly growling stomach that is embarrassing in a meeting, but a feeling that we will feel bad if we don't eat something right away.
I would like to remind you of the feeling of hunger in order to make you understand how important social contacts are. This is not about satisfying the hunger for social contacts substitutionally with food. That's a different story, which is not the point here.
The feeling of hunger is triggered by the brain to tell us, "Hey your body needs energy, your battery is almost empty, make sure to recharge." Food is essential, we need to eat to survive and function properly. It is the same with social interaction. If we lack it, we "starve". That means our brain tells us we are missing something essential, something we need in order to live - other people. Our brain wants to tell us: find your group!
Children without care
This observation reminds me of earlier studies on babies and toddlers:
As early as 1946, René Spitz, an Austrian-American psychoanalyst, studied infants in orphanages. The children were between three and twelve months old, they were given to orphanages by their delinquent mothers and cared for in a large barren room.
The care was such that one nurse looked after at least eight babies. Taking care meant feeding and changing nappies. Otherwise, there was no interaction with the babies. What happened? The children did not gain weight, they even lost weight, although they had enough to eat. The children cried and withdrew. This experience had a lifelong impact. Attachment comes from attention, from warmth and love.
Many fibromyalgia sufferers suffer from allodynia, which means that touch can hurt, yet we touch and let ourselves be touched, why? Because we need it.
"What does it feel like to be lonely? It feels like being hungry: To be hungry when everyone around you is preparing for a feast"
Olivia Laing, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
"Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the worst poverty".
"This is what love consists of: that two lonely people protect and touch and talk to each other".
Rainer Maria Rilke
Signposts out of loneliness
Ministry against loneliness
Loneliness is not an issue that has only come up because of the pandemic. Before that, there was talk of a loneliness pandemic caused by the increasing individualisation of our society. In the UK, a ministry dedicated to finding solutions for loneliness was therefore established in 2018. It is headed by Tracy Crouch. Would such a ministry also make sense in Germany?
Making telephone calls to combat loneliness
Retla (that's age spelled backwards in German) is an association founded by actors Elmar Wepper and Michaela Mey. If you dial 089 1891 0026 , Elmar or Michaela may pick up the phone. There are another 150 sponsorships and plenty to go around.
A frightening fact is that almost half of the people over 65 live alone. (Source: Federal Statistical Office Germany) At first you might think, 65 - that's still a long way off. I'll be 58 this year. A few dear people in my circle have already died, and that's how it starts. The restrictions on leaving or visiting make us feel the loneliness more acutely, because there is virtually no social contact any more. Telephone sponsorship is not only a solution for older people, because older people often want younger people to talk to. Would that be something you would consider doing?
What does Corona mean for our relationship?
In the current situation, I do not initially think of loneliness, but rather of family members longing for more peace and retreat. In fact, the satisfaction factor in partnerships depends on the balance between closeness and distance, the familiar and the new. This is no easy task to take on even without Corona. Due to more home offices, home schooling, redundancies, short-time work, the balance has been tipped in favour of closeness and habit. This can lead to a partnership that no longer works so well. Excessive demands and loneliness can be the result.
If couples and family units manage to overcome this challenge, their relationship can come out of this period stronger and more resilient. If they do not, separations and divorces can be the result, and therefore more potentially lonely people. Fibromyalgia and partnership
The button leads to the Protestant Corona Counselling Centre in Stuttgart. Do some research on the internet, there are certainly counselling centres in your area that are independent or run by other religions.
Possibilities of communication in self-help
At present, it is only possible to meet in person in a self-help group under very difficult conditions. These meetings are sorely lacking because they accomplish a lot. They are not a full replacement, but digital meetings are relatively easy to manage. Video conferencing works best with a smartphone because it has all the necessary accessories integrated. (Microphone, camera, loudspeaker). To avoid costs, preferably in WLAN, then the calls with the apps and services described are free of charge and the internet connection is most stable. This only works if you have internet access and the knowledge to use it. You can also stay in contact with friends and people from the self-help group by phone.
The button leads to more information for self-help groups in Baden- Württemberg. NAKOS is responsible for all federal states.
Frequently asked questions
Are you really lonely?
Are you really lonely or do you just feel that way? When I'm alone, I think about different things, occupy myself with tasks that I enjoy more or less. Retreat is actually very important for me as an introverted person. I am lonely when I lack something, when I have a feeling of spiritual hunger. Do you feel the difference?
How can you counter your feeling of loneliness?
A simple solution is to keep busy. Read, write, knit, cook, bake, listen to music/radio. Revive neglected hobbies. Finally putting photo albums together, sorting things. All these activities spark thoughts that can distract. I started this blog. What do you do when you feel lonely?
How can you help others?
Helping others is also a good way to counter one's own loneliness. It distracts from oneself. This motivation is a driving force in self-help. You can offer to go shopping for others, call people you haven't talked to in a long time... You probably have ideas yourself. It is important to find the right balance for yourself. Don't overdo it.
What consequences can loneliness have?
We cannot measure loneliness by the number of social contacts, because each person has an individual need for personal contact. Loneliness can lead to a reinforcement of the tendency you already have. If you are an anxious person, anxiety can be intensified. Cardiovascular problems can occur or forms of depression. If you feel lonely and alone, contact a counselling centre. Seek contact on the phone or through social media. Helpful links
Help I am lonely - What can I do?
Routine - do I really need it?
As a person with a chronic illness and in general, it is very important to try to structure your day. Set yourself tasks and take breaks. Therapy sessions or treatments may be cancelled at the moment. Try to fill this time with something that is good for you. Keep moving: Try the exercises your therapist has shown you. Look for online exercise guides that suit your abilities. Exercise
Get dressed! This signals to the brain that you have something planned, that the day is beginning. My husband's father used to say: If you keep order, order will keep you - this also applies to a structured day! A daily routine can turn a potentially gruelling time when you are stuck at home into an exciting and productive experience.
Too much information?
Inform yourself about the development of the pandemic and the measures against it from reliable sources. Do not overwhelm yourself with too much information. You can agree with yourself how often and when in the day you get information. Being well and properly informed can give you some security. Too much information tends to make you insecure. I read the newspaper online once in the morning and watch the news once in the evening.
Physical and mental belong together
Physical and mental health are interrelated. It is very important for fibromyalgia sufferers to find their own rhythm between activity and rest. Relaxation exercises with gentle movements are also good for the psyche. Not moving can make stiffness, pain, fatigue and low mood worse. If you don't want to or can't get out of the house, you can move around the house. I walk around while I'm on the phone, and I also try to do small tasks around the house all the time. What are your exercise hacks?
Doing something meaningful makes you happy!
A Calendar slogan? Not at all. After being out of your former routine for so long, you may think you no longer belong, that you are no longer making a meaningful contribution. This is what chronically ill people often feel at the beginning of their life change. Five phases of illness
Doing something meaningful every day rewards you. When I was working in self-help, it was very fulfilling when I could help someone. Something meaningful can also be an online course or creating your family tree, or finishing photo albums that have been waiting for a long time. Maybe even give one as a gift.
Keep in touch
If you prefer traditional communication, you can write letters or make phone calls. I think everyone would appreciate a handwritten letter. If you are social media literate, you can connect with others by commenting on their posts. You can exchange messages via messenger services, or arrange video chats. You can check out your favourite author's Facebook fan page and join in. None of this replaces a face-to-face encounter, but it's amazing what's possible.
Do something good for yourself. Take the time to cook for yourself. Check out my blog about food memories. Food Memories (English)
Take a warm footbath with fragrant bath additives. Pick up that book you've been wanting to read for a long time. Learn new relaxation exercises. Set up a nice feel-good spot somewhere in your home. Watch films that make you laugh. These can also be old classics like "Dick and Doof" or "Tom & Jerry". Laugh
I'm sure you have some ideas of your own.
Now is the time - Projects
Take up the project that has been lying fallow for a long time. Or start something new. Learning new skills, like calligraphy or drawing or playing an instrument, distracts from the pain and other symptoms. There are so many tutorials on the net. What project do you have?
What I've always wanted....
Another good way to relieve pain and reduce the feeling of loneliness is distraction. Everything I mentioned is distracting in some way and things intertwine. For example, you could make a playlist, whether digital or by hand of your favourite music tracks, and listen to those tracks from your past. Or search the media libraries for documentaries on a topic that interests you or an old series. You can make a reading list of the books you've always wanted to read and start there. You can also do this with audio books. You can borrow books and audiobooks digitally from many local libraries. You could go through all your old notes about topics, incidents, quotes... that you didn't want to forget. The snippets of thoughts are sure to spark new ideas again. Whatever works for you.
These suggestions can't be all-inclusive and may not suit you, but they might spark ideas for you. If so, I would like to hear more from you.
My last tip: watch a good film
Together you are less alone is the title of a book by Anna Gavalda, in which the residents of a crazy Parisian flat share love, quarrel and reconcile in order to get along with each other. Perhaps things are similar in some families at the moment. Other people are alone and feel lonely.
A hunger for social contact. (2020, 23 November). Retrieved 17 January 2021, from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/11/201123120724.htm
Denworth, L. D. (2020, 2 April). The Loneliness of the "Social Distancer" Triggers Brain Cravings Akin to Hunger. Retrieved January 16, 2021, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-loneliness-of-the-social-distancer-triggers-brain-cravings-akin-to-hunger/
Mengue, M. M. (2020, 29 March). Against loneliness: association launches hotline for senior citizens. Retrieved 16 January 2021, from https://www.br.de/nachrichten/bayern/gegen-einsamkeit-verein-startet-hotline-fuer-senioren,RucGm8y
Trafton, A. T. (2020, 23 November). A hunger for social contact. Retrieved 15 January 2021, from https://news.mit.edu/2020/hunger-social-cravings-neuroscience-1123
Hillebrandt, N. H. (2018, 2 July). A look back: When babies weren't thought to need love. www.faminino.de. https://www.faminino.de/ein-blick-zurueck-als-man-dachte-babys-braeuchten-keine-liebe/
Institute for Communication and Society. (n.d.). The psychological consequences of the Corona crisis. www.institut-kommunikation-gesellschaft.de. Retrieved 18 January 2021, from https://www.institut-kommunikation-gesellschaft.de/die-psychologischen-folgen-der-coronakrise/