Feelings I Hate Feeling: On Loneliness & Social Distancing

I reached my breaking point last week. 

Everyday bore a newfound heaviness that was unfamiliar to me. I’ve always had “anxious” tendencies, overly stressing about things that didn’t need worrying over. But never to this degree. 

I felt an anxiety deeper than just stress from my work. I felt irritable. I was easily angered, getting flustered over the smallest things. I couldn’t produce anything near to the level of what I could accomplish just a month earlier. I have pressing deadlines, massive goals, urgent work, and a running to-do list that has to get done—yet I couldn’t seem to muster the energy, let alone the desire, to do any of it. Then comes a rush of guilt and shame that I’m not producing enough. I’m not contributing enough. I’m slacking. I’m not working 40+ hours. But no matter how hard I try, I just run into this wall of anxiety, apathy, lethargy, and…

…depression.

I’ve never experienced depression. I’ve been sad before, and certainly upset. But this emotion was entirely new to me. It felt like a ton of bricks welled up inside my chest weighing me down right where I was seated, unable to move, unable to work, unable to feel what I need to feel. I was utterly helpless… I cried into my wife’s shoulders. 

I reached my breaking point.

I’m an Enneagram type 7. I’m an ENFJ Myers-Briggs personality type. I’m an “I” according on DiSC test. Includer, Positivity, Woo, and Connectedness are 4 of my top 5 strengths on StrengthFinder. In other words, I’m an optimistic, productivity machine who thrives off being in large crowds and spewing positivity to everyone around me, reminding them of their potential and how they belong, and that my first response to any negative emotion is to bury it or run away to other pleasurable things, like Chipotle, coffee shops, or hanging with people.

So you can imagine what all this social distancing is doing to me.

After a lot of processing, journaling, listening to podcasts, and FaceTime calls with friends, I’m reminded that what I’m feeling – depression, anxiety, irritability, slowness, lack of productivity – is the side effects of loneliness.

While social distancing is imperative for remedying a global pandemic, it’s sinking us deeper into another epidemic that our country has been going through for the last 10-20 years. It’s the loneliness epidemic.

The loneliness epidemic is what The BFFs Church blog was originally created to address: That our culture naturally reaps a lifestyle of loneliness and isolation, and that was before social distancing rules were put into place. Having strong relationships strengthens the immune system, extends life, speeds recovery from surgery, and reduces the risks of depression and anxiety disorders, whereas extended periods of loneliness does the exact opposite. 

Before this pandemic, CIGNA released a study saying that nearly 50% of Americans sometimes or always feel alone or left out, nor have meaningful in-person social interactions on a daily basis. This only increases exponentially when everyone is forced to shelter in place, trying to connect with people via screens and webcams when our bodies are wired for connection with others in person. (Our brains are smart. They know when we’re staring at a screen or in the presence of another human being.)

All this to say… if you’re feeling extra down, irritable, anxious, sluggish, or unproductive, it’s not just because we’re going through strange, uncertain, traumatic times. It could also be your body reminding you that you are a social being, created for community, belonging, and friendship. We are literally better together. Relationships impact everything we do, everything we think, and everything we feel. 

You’re not crazy for feeling the way you’re feeling. Nor are you weak. All of us are grieving at the disruption of our normal lives, and coping with the real loneliness that comes with social distancing.

Everything you’re feeling is a normal response to an abnormal situation. So I encourage you to do something to process these feelings with anyone, be it through texting, a phone call, FaceTime, Marco Polo, or carrier pigeon. Do whatever you gotta do to stay connected. Your health—and your sanity—depends on it.

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