Coping with Loneliness and Isolation As the COVID-19 Pandemic Continues

By Cancer Foundation on January 14 / 2021

[Cancer, Cancer Coaching, Caregivers, Uncategorized]Comments

Here in Canada, it’s estimated that at least one in five people regularly experience some degree of loneliness or social isolation—and this number has only grown since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

About one quarter of surveyed Canadians have indicated their mental health has suffered since the start of the pandemic, and the situation is even more complicated for those who are facing cancer: they may already feel disconnected from their loved ones because of the unique challenges they are facing. They might be facing additional stressors like delays in their treatment or diagnosis. They might be worried about what will happen if they get sick with COVID-19, since their diagnosis and treatment could have impacted their immunity.

While many cancer patients were familiar with feelings of loneliness and concern for their health long before the COVID-19 pandemic began, current restrictions and public health measures have made it even more challenging for them to get the support and companionship they need. And as much as others may try to empathize, it can be difficult for loved ones to understand what someone facing cancer is experiencing right now.

There are many reasons loneliness can affect those facing cancer differently, including:

  • A patient or caregiver might withhold their feelings, to avoid others “feeling sorry for them” or to prevent people from minimizing their experience.
  • After cancer treatment ends, the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer (CPAC) estimates that 70% of cancer patients experience emotional challenges: many feel misunderstood given the expectations that their life will go right back to the way it was before cancer, while in reality they are still dealing with physical symptoms, emotional struggles, and a changed sense of identity or perspective.
  • If a patient is a young adult, it may be even more challenging for their peers to understand what they are going through, and they may feel even more isolated as their day-to-day life looks so different from that of their friends and family members.
  • Studies have shown that cancer patients may be at increased risk of severe illness if they contract COVID-19, meaning they must be even more careful to limit their contacts.

But now that we are almost a year into the pandemic, a number of creative solutions are available to help those who are facing cancer get through these difficult times. Here are a few ideas of things you can do to overcome feelings of loneliness and stay connected while following the province’s new stay-at-home guidelines:

Stay in contact with your health care providers. Reach out to them if you have any questions specific to your situation, and let them know if you have questions or concerns about your physical or mental health. If you are thinking of speaking to a mental health professional, your doctor can help you get started.

Stay connected to your social circles. Social contact is fundamental to mental health, even if we’re being asked to spend as much time as possible at home. Check in regularly with your loved ones by phone, email, or virtually. If you’re getting tired of video calls, try adding in an activity like playing a trivia game, watching the same movie at the same time as the person you are calling, or starting a virtual book club. There are also online cancer and caregiver support groups available, such as www.cancerchat.ca, and for young adults, www.youngadultcancer.ca.

Accept help from friends or loved ones. If someone offers to drop off groceries, medication, or other essentials, consider taking them up on their offer. If you need help with more specific tasks like shoveling your driveway or taking your dog out for a walk, don’t be afraid to ask. If you happen to be in a position to help someone else, consider making one of these offers to someone you know who may also be feeling isolated.

Speak to a Cancer Coach. Our one-on-one Coaching services are free of charge, available to both people living with cancer and their caregivers, and are accessible by phone or virtually. If you are dealing with feelings of loneliness and isolation, or have any other need you’d like to discuss, a Cancer Coach can help. Visit www.ottawacancer.ca/coachme to sign up.

Try a new virtual service or group program. At the Cancer Foundation, we are currently offering distance Reiki for individuals and a group Sound Healing program, and there are many other organizations throughout the community providing online meditation sessions, yoga classes, or other activities that might help you feel more connected to others (and not feel like you are just joining yet another Zoom call!) Check with local gyms, fitness or yoga studios, or community organizations to see if they have a virtual group you might be interested in joining.

Treat yourself and your body well. Fresh air, movement, good nutrition, and simple stress management techniques can go a very long way in helping you feel better, even if they’re things you do alone. Whether you prefer yoga, exercise videos, or simply taking a few moments during the day to breathe deeply, don’t forget to treat yourself and your body with kindness.

Be mindful of what you share and consume on social media. While we all need to be responsible and stay up-to-date on the current situation regarding COVID-19, limiting our intake of distressing content online is believed to help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. Try setting a time limit on how much time you spend on social media, using your social media accounts primarily to connect with friends, and adding more enjoyable offline activities to your day.

Remember, if you are experiencing feelings of loneliness or isolation, you are definitely not alone—and help is available. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you would like to speak to a Cancer Coach, and explore services like the Ottawa Distress Centre and CounsellingConnect.org if you are in need of more urgent help.

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