Auctioneers in Scotland are taking part in a campaign to tackle loneliness and mental ill-health among farmers during lockdown. With no auction marts, agricultural shows or normal summer events due to Covid-19, farming organisations are concerned many will be struggling. The Royal Scottish Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RSABI) says calls to its helpline have doubled in the last month. Farming is a lonely profession at the best of times; farmers work intensely at certain times of the year, spending long hours by themselves in the fields to maximise their yields. The global pandemic has just exacerbated this problem and it has also highlighted an issue that has been brewing in society for a long time.
The impact of loneliness
People were already lonely before the Coronavirus pandemic hit. A 2018 study from health care insurer Cigna found that 54% of 20,000 Americans surveyed reported feeling lonely. Generation Z adults (18-22) years old are supposedly the loneliest generation, outpacing Boomers, Gen X and Millennials, despite being more connected than ever. The most alarming part of this research suggests that being lonely for a sustained period of time could be bad for people’s physical and mental wellbeing. The health risks identified were on par with smoking and obesity. The Cigna report found that extended isolation makes a person irritable, depressed and self-centred, and is associated with a 26% increase in the risk of premature mortality. As a result of COVID-19, keeping a distance from others is the safest way to stay healthy, despite the fact it could compound feelings of isolation and be very damaging to our health.
Our natural state
Humans are not made to live in isolation. We are tribe people. “It’s very distressing when we are not a part of a group,” said Julianne Holt-Lundstad, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University. “We have to deal with our environment entirely on our own, without the help of others, which puts our brain in a state of alert, but that also signals the rest of our body to be in a state of alert.” Staying in that state of alert, that high state of stress, means wear and tear on the body. Stress hormones like cortisol and norepinephrine can contribute to sleeplessness, weight gain and anxiety over extended periods of exposure.
This global crisis is possibly the most stressful experience many people have had in their lifetime. Daily life has been upended, unemployment has skyrocketed and more than 6 million people around the world have been infected. Normally, immense challenges like those would have you seeking the reassurance and support of family and friends. But due to the nature of the virus, people are more physically alone than ever, making it that much harder to cope. This means there is a desperate need to provide help to people experiencing isolation syndrome.
Limiting the effects
Luckily, Dr Richard Davidson has been studying the effects of Mindfulness upon the regions of the brain related to cognition and emotion that are said to be affected by loneliness. The research into these areas of the brain in other studies showed genes associated with cancer, cardiovascular disease and inflammatory diseases expressed in those who were lonelier. This evidences there is a network of connections between these different genes by which they can affect each other. Dr Davidson’s work has shown that Mindfulness exercises can change the structure of the brain. To such an extent that our emotional personality can be altered. Thus the damaging effects of loneliness can be reversed in those who are suffering and prevented in those who have not yet been affected.
It is clear we are living in unusual times where isolation can have a negative effect upon us. But with techniques like Mindfulness available, we can learn to adapt to a healthier and happier new way of life. For more information on Mindfulness services please email firstname.lastname@example.org.