Finding purpose in a pandemic

Aug 07, 2020

The widowed journey is one thing. Widowed in a pandemic is next-level difficult.

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. And for those who found purpose at work, approximately 40 million US workers have lost jobs, or about 1 in 5 households.

About 27% of people over age 60 live alone in the United States, which lends itself to loneliness in normal circumstances, much less during a time when physical distancing is, in many cases, required. 

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.

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. It is entirely possible to be alone but not lonely. 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.

No matter what our brains are telling us, 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 might be suggesting that you are “too old” to find new purpose, I would 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.

 After all you’ve been through, don’t let loneliness inflict even more pain. Challenge your brain to explore possibilities for purpose, especially now. If you have a pulse, you have a purpose.


Teresa Amaral Beshwate, MPH, The Sudden Widow Coach, helps widows who have experienced the sudden loss of their spouse or significant other learn to live and love their life again. Her coaching program is exclusively for widowed people and offers the perfect mix of private and group coaching along with the most life changing tools for the uniquely challenging widowed journey. 

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