The novel coronavirus is a silent threat. It snuck into the human body and took advantage of our global interconnectedness to travel across oceans, mountains and continents, infecting as of press time around 1.5 million people across 184 countries, according to the John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
The enemy is not yet understood. As of now, the only way to fight it is to isolate ourselves from other human beings, leaving us to survive the fear alone. To battle the novel coronavirus, we are faced with an underlying sense of loneliness, and loneliness is an epidemic in itself.
Studies have shown the direct negative impact of loneliness on health, including higher blood pressure and heart rates, an increased risk for coronary heart disease and strokes and even premature mortality rates. According to a 2010 study in PLOS Magazine, lacking social connection poses a greater health risk than obesity and physical inactivity.
We are simultaneously battling a global pandemic and a loneliness epidemic. People across the world are coping with this reality by finding different ways to hold onto togetherness. For example, in large cities such as Madrid, London, Seattle and New York City, people stand on their balconies to clap and cheer in support of the health care workers and critical employees. The movement is called Clap Because We Care, empowering community and connectedness in a time of isolation.
As I reflect on this current reality, I have pondered human resilience and even questioned my own. This experience has been humbling, reminding me of what I take for granted — hugging a friend, face-to-face conversations, the warmth of the sun and the freedom to travel, openly communicate and live. With social interactions only available through a phone or a computer screen, I feel a dent in my spirit.
“If you are lucky enough to never experience any sort of adversity, we won’t know how resilient you are,” Konnikova said. “It’s only when you’re faced with obstacles, stress, and other environmental threats that resilience, or the lack of it, emerges: Do you succumb or do you surmount?”
Although the two circumstances differ, it’s worth comparing the fear, national panic and life-rattling changes from the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 to what we are feeling now. Following the attacks, American citizens were shaken, yet able to survive the fear with a greater sense of patriotism and human connection. Increased volunteerism, benefit concerts and performances and large gatherings in common places helped the country post tributes and share grief. Similar to other detrimental events, coming together helped people heal, something that we are incapable of doing now.
As a species, we have evolved to thrive on human connection. This was quickly ripped away from us, abruptly changing the way our country and our world function. Robin Wright, an award-winning journalist and author, wrote about how loneliness from COVID-19 is taking its toll on the human race in The New Yorker.
“The pandemic is forcing the human species—and our brains—to do the opposite of what we’ve learned to do over millennia in order to survive,” Wright said.
We have never in recent memory collectively faced this level of forced isolation. The 1918 influenza pandemic, known as the “Spanish flu,” infected about 500 million people and spread worldwide during 1918-1919. Similar to our reality today, cities imposed restrictions, enforcing quarantines and closings. John M Barry, the author of “The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History,” discussed lessons we can learn from the 1918 influenza pandemic and compared that pandemic with the COVID-19 pandemic in a New York Times article.
“Covid-19’s average incubation period is more than double influenza’s,” Barry said. “So compliance may have to be sustained for months, and openings and closings may also have to be repeated.”
We are experiencing adversity. Our human resilience is being tested as we fight this pandemic and the loneliness that comes with it. It is important to establish any social connections that we can. FaceTime with friends, spend time with your family and search for ways to connect within your different communities. If we continue to promote connectedness, we will build the resolve that the human spirit needs to survive and overcome this pandemic.