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Virtual Primary Care Treats Loneliness

Perhaps you’ve heard that loneliness is a cause of many mental and physical health problems in modern societies. The average human being is a social creature and has grown up with many social interactions. As we grow older, these ties disappear, and it’s common for people to find themselves in profound loneliness. For many, virtual primary care treats loneliness by empowering patients to express their feelings and emotions in a less judgemental setting.

Treating loneliness with medications isn’t the goal. It’s establishing the human bond and empowering the patient with skills to connect with others.

Ever Felt Lonely?

It’s one thing to be alone, and it’s another to be lonely. It can be refreshing to spend time alone to reflect, meditate, hike, or read. These are often moments when a person can recharge and process the environment around them.

Loneliness is the lack of a deeper connection with others around us. It’s when you don’t feel anyone else cares about you, and there aren’t others close enough to you for you to interact with.

It’s normal to have bouts of loneliness that often resolve; we come back after a birthday dinner and feel emptiness. Or we get caught up with running errands, and the only interactions we get to have are quick, task-based ones—no meaningful connection.

Feeling Heard & Listened To

Though your virtual primary care doctor cannot be your one and only friend, they can understand you from a deeper, more vulnerable perspective.

If we can’t open up to others around us and be vulnerable, then it’s hard to have deeper connections. With your own doctor, it’s necessary to be vulnerable because that’s the only way they know what is happening.

Too often, my patients tell me that their doctor or partner just doesn’t listen. They can’t express themselves how they want, so they are left with profound loneliness, emptiness, and feeling as if nobody cares.

Though not all, many virtual primary care doctors and those who run Direct Primary Care practices spend a lot more time with each patient. They have small patient panels, which allows them to get to know each patient.

Practicing Vulnerability

To feel loved and listened to, we must be open to how others view us, remain relatively free of judgment, and express vulnerability.

Vulnerability isn’t about telling another person what is wrong with them or why our lives aren’t going the way we want. It isn’t about complaining about our pain or how lonely we feel.

Vulnerability is the art of connecting with another human being by expressing how we feel and what we think from a place of little judgment and security. It’s knowing that this person will listen and likely have some positive and negative reactions but that in the end, they will accept us, appreciate us, and, in return, share some of their own vulnerability.

You can practice being vulnerable with your doctor by not criticizing them but expressing how you feel when they say something or ask something. You can also practice this by recognizing moments when your doctor is being vulnerable with you.

The Importance of a Social Bond

I learned to be vulnerable from my therapist, who taught me that it’s essential to express my feelings. And that how others react to my feelings is their prerogative. For me to have deep, meaningful connections with others, I must allow them to think, feel, and express how they feel around me.

As we enter the workforce or build a family and again later when we turn the corner on retirement, we disconnect from others because we live more goal-oriented lives. It’s hard to find unstructured moments to connect with others.

A social bond with another human being comes from spending time with them with little expectation and judgment.

We do this with our pets a lot. We are in their presence and allow them to play around us, eat around us, fart around us, lay on us, and pretty much do whatever they please. In return, we show them love, give them hugs and kisses, and build a bond that is very close to curing loneliness.

Can a pet replace a human being? For some, yes. For most, the bond with another human being is still something quite precious.

Feeling Judged

It’s normal to feel judged even when someone isn’t judging you. When I address my patient’s obesity, it’s nearly impossible for them not to feel judged.

Feeling Judged isn’t the same as being judged. Another human will have many biases. What matters is how they act on them, not what they think deep down inside.

Except for a pet, it’s pretty unlikely to meet a human being, including a Saint, therapist, nurse, or doctor, who won’t have judgemental thoughts cross their mind.

But can you sit there in that moment of presence with another person and be vulnerable despite what they think? Can you then enjoy the great conversations you’ll have with them? Learning to hold that space for the other person and expecting the same is what builds a healthy bond, overcomes feeling judged, and eventually addresses loneliness.

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