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Before the coronavirus pandemic forced people indoors and kept them from their usual social activities, the United States was already experiencing a loneliness epidemic, with between 40 and 60 percent of U.S. adults reporting feelings of isolation. COVID-19 only amplified this phenomenon, with social distancing and other precautionary measures keeping many people from the intimacy and connection they were accustomed to.

Now, even as COVID cases are falling dramatically and the pandemic subsides, experts are finding more reported cases of loneliness than ever. Researchers at Harvard, Northeastern, Northwestern and Rutgers University found that levels of social isolation have increased even as the world begins to open back up, and predict that the effects of the pandemic may last a long time.

Loneliness is characterized by a discrepancy between what a person wants and needs out of a relationship and what that individual experiences. Both loneliness and isolation are associated with a range of negative health conditions, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and a weakened immune system. In addition, loneliness is linked to a number of mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression.

Although social media usage rose during the pandemic, it does not seem to be helping Americans feel more connected. In fact, a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine reported that social media use may be associated with increased feelings of loneliness. In the young adults surveyed, those with the highest social media usage were three times more likely to have perceived social isolation.

Experts posit that simply being around other people is not enough to cure loneliness. In fact, it may amplify feelings of isolation. Feeling pressure to be happy around others or to participate in social events can actually have the opposite effect by highlighting a lack of deep intimacy or trust in relationships.

We all have times of feeling distant from friends and family or moments where we feel misunderstood. But if you are experiencing chronic loneliness or a regular sense of social isolation, you’re in the majority. In that respect, you’re not alone. If you notice any physical or psychological symptoms of isolation or are finding it difficult to connect with others post-pandemic, seek the help of a mental health professional.

VentSpace is a free, anonymous platform where users can share their thoughts and feelings without fear of judgement.