Why can't we live in isolation

Solitude researcher on the corona crisis : "We are all in the same boat - maybe this is also an opportunity"

Susanne Bücker is a personality psychologist and loneliness researcher at the Ruhr University Bochum.

Corona infected people are under quarantine, many companies work from home and social contacts are to be restricted. Can the virus make you lonely?
The effects of the coronavirus on our social life can become problematic. This is especially true - but not only - for those who live alone. All the measures that are taken massively restrict our social activities.

This affects older people in particular, who are already at risk of getting lonely. Visits to grandparents are already being canceled and closer contact with older people is being reduced.

It is very possible that these people will then feel more isolated, excluded, or lonely.

How can you deal with this loneliness?
I think that virtual and telephone contact can help. That will also be an important part for us in the near future. However, such virtual contacts will not be able to completely replace social interactions.

It is something different whether you are just talking to someone on the phone or writing, or when you stand across from someone and see how they react directly to what they say. I believe that phone calls and video calls can certainly replace this direct personal contact at times, but not completely.

Can being alone in the apartment, for example in quarantine, also lead to depression?
There are individual differences in how well people cope with being alone. If you live in isolation for a week or two, you won't fall into depression right away.

But that also depends on the person. Anyone who generally tends to be sad and thoughtful could have more difficulties at a time like this. However, some experience such isolation as very pleasant or even as a kind of deceleration.

You can finally read or watch movies. But one also has to say that being alone does not automatically mean that you feel lonely.

In what way?
You can also live in a relationship or with a family, be among friends and feel lonely.

Conversely, not all single people are lonely by far. So the feeling of loneliness doesn't have to be related to being alone.

What can you do in such moments of loneliness?
Completely independent of Corona: We know that it is easier to reactivate existing contacts than to make completely new ones. When feeling lonely, you can go through your address book and try to freshen up contacts.

The coronavirus situation can also be an opportunity to find a common strategy. Suddenly a lot of people are in the same boat. You can move together and consciously state that you feel lonely.

If you talk about it, it helps in such an exceptional situation.

Background about the coronavirus:

How do you rate the need to restrict social contacts?
The recommendation is that one should primarily avoid large crowds. You shouldn't meet friends in a bar. And in some companies you shouldn't go to the office anymore.

But that doesn't automatically mean that we all have to live in isolation in our apartment now. The recommendations do not rule out meeting friends at home.

However, the recommendation situation can be tightened at any time. That should be watched carefully. Even if physical contact is not always possible, it is important to keep in touch.

Especially with people who are very worried, such as parents or grandparents.

Should you try to increase contact in these cases?
Yes, that can definitely help. The contact doesn't have to be physical. Lots of people are very worried.

It helps them if you talk a lot about your fears. The problem is, we all have different information. Some know things about the virus that others don't.

This different, sometimes contradicting information triggers fear and stress in many people. In addition, Corona is now dominating social networks. This whole way of dealing with Corona only makes the topic bigger and the fear is intensified. Other issues are also important, let's not forget that.

So should we step back a little on that?
The constant talk about Corona, the reports about every death, all of that scares and triggers uncertainty. That is also understandable. It is an elusive risk for the general population.

The situation is new for all of us, for scientists, politicians, doctors, virologists. We are all ultimately in the same situation. That can be scary. But we shouldn't add to this fear.

You started a study this Monday, in that you want to investigate the psychological and social consequences of Covid-19. What do you want to achieve with it?
We want to investigate how people will change their behavior with regard to the corona virus in the next few weeks and months. But we also want to find out how our satisfaction, our social relationships and our well-being change.

The virus is a factor that comes from outside, that many people perceive as uncontrollable and that restricts us, especially in social activities. We want to investigate how differently people deal with the coronavirus.

nd we hope to better understand why one reacts in such an exceptional situation.

What do you suppose you will find out?
We do not have very clear expectations at this point. It's a new situation for us too.

It can go one way or the other. The restrictions, the low contact with other people, but also the fear of being infected with others - all of this can have negative consequences for the quality of our social relationships.

But it can also be that the virus causes us to move closer together and help other people. Because we all end up facing the same problem.

Nobody knows what happens next. We're all in the same boat - and maybe that's an opportunity too.

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