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Fighting loneliness during coronavirus pandemic is important, experts say

A 2020 report by the health insurer Cigna showed 61 percent of Americans reported feeling lonely, with higher percentages among the younger generations.

WASHINGTON — With the coronavirus changing the way we live right now some of the things we're used to aren’t there anymore, and when it comes to mental and emotional health, this loneliness and isolation is something to which we need to pay attention.

Loneliness was an issue before the coronavirus pandemic forced millions of Americans to take social distancing seriously.

"Loneliness is a subjective quality, and it has to do with whether you're with people or without," psychiatrist Dr. Sue Varma said on "CBS This Morning."

In 2018, an AARP study found 35 percent of people over the age of 45 are lonely.

Additionally, a 2020 report by the health insurer Cigna showed 61 percent of Americans reported feeling lonely, with higher percentages among the younger generations. Of Baby Boomers 50 percent felt lonely, compared to 71 percent of Millennials and 79 percent of Gen Zers.

"I think we're just at the precipice of trying to figure out how to avoid those grave consequences that come with isolation, and the challenge here is no one knows how long this is going to last," University of California, San Francisco Professor of Sociology Dr. Stacy Torres said.

This isn't just a US problem, either. It’s a worldwide issue. The U.K., for example, appointed the world's first ever "Minister for Loneliness" in 2018 after a report that said nine million of the country’s 67 million people feel lonely some or all the time.

So what can you do to fight against this sense of dread?

Some advice from astronaut Peggy Whitson, who spent more than 650 days in the loneliness of space, stresses that thinking about the bigger goal is one of the keys to getting through the current crisis.

"Recognizing that the team purpose is the most important, and COVID-19 gives us a very higher purpose, much like being in space does, because we are saving lives by quarantining," Whitson said. "It is important to understand that bigger purpose and to embrace that purpose."

Experts emphasize that sharing time to have a meaningful interaction and a meaningful conversation is the key to tackling loneliness. Remember to share our lives with each other, even if it’s the occasional phone call or FaceTime chat.

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