As the pandemic drags on month after month, loneliness can tighten its cruel grip. For many, a sense of purpose is the primary weapon against loneliness, yet thanks to Covid-19, the usual sources of meaning and purpose have become largely non-existent.

Volunteerism as we knew it is on a long-term pause. For those who find purpose through paid work, approximately 40 million US workers have lost jobs, or about 1 in 5 households. Globally there has been a loss of about 400 million full-time jobs. 

Loneliness Is Risky Business 

About one in four adults over age 60 live alone in the United States, which is much higher than other countries. Living alone in any country lends itself to loneliness in normal circumstances, much less during a time of physical distancing.

Research has linked social isolation and loneliness to higher risks for a variety of physical and mental conditions: high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and even death. 

Loneliness is the health equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and it is a global problem. It was the pandemic before the pandemic.

Given that Covid-19 is showing few signs of letting up, the time is now to discover ways to feel less lonely, and to find purpose in a pandemic.

Alone But Not Lonely?

Loneliness is a feeling, and like all feelings, it is caused by a thought. This is good news because thoughts are 100% optional. When you feel lonely, ask yourself what thoughts you’re thinking.

While these thoughts may be factually true, they ultimately do not serve you. A good question to ask is, “What else might be true?” Try on alternate thoughts and see what feelings they produce for you.

If all thoughts are optional, why not choose thoughts that create feelings that are at least not miserable, and at best, useful?

If you are reading this article, you are online, and so are many thousands of others just like you. Search for social media groups based on your interests, life stage, and passions. Check out MeetUp.com in your area according to your interests. Many groups are either meeting online for now, or in physically distanced, outdoor settings.

Whatever wasn’t online earlier this year has made the migration. Therefore, it’s easier than ever to find your tribe, expand your social circle, meet people who get you, and even find a new sense of purpose.

Purpose Is Possible (Even Now)

No matter what your brain is telling you, purpose in a pandemic is not an impossibility. Our brains search the past in order to determine what is true now, and to decide what is possible in the future.

If past sources of meaning and purpose were tied to in-person volunteerism or office-based paid work, the brain will not readily see other possibilities.

Yet examples of online purpose are everywhere. One of my long-time favorites are these Assisted Living community residents, who, for several years, have been teaching conversational English to Brazilian students.

If, by chance, your brain is suggesting that you are “too old” to find new purpose, I highly recommend this TED talk for a never-too-late kick in the pants.

There are many opportunities to discover passion and purpose, even now. First, believe that you have wisdom and skills to contribute; that you are needed, especially now. Then check out these links.

www.encore.org 

www.pointsoflight.org/for-volunteers/ 

www.crisistextline.org/become-a-volunteer/

upchieve.org/volunteer

www.careervillage.org/

www.volunteermatch.org/

createthegood.aarp.org/

caribu.com/

Challenge your brain to explore possibilities for purpose, especially now. If you have a pulse, you have a purpose. 

How have you combatted loneliness during Covid-19? What new ways have you found purpose during the pandemic? How have you redefined purpose as you have entered new chapters of life? Please share with our community and let’s have a conversation.

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