Getting a letter helps people who are feeling isolated & lonely. Composing and mailing our thoughts to someone connects us with them. That's the topic of today's episode.
Hello everyone and welcome to today’s episode where today we consider a simple thing we can do to nurture our relationship with people.
Some of us are doing better than others in coping with the pandemic we’re living through here in 2020. For those of us who are, and who want to help those of us who are not, you may find today’s episode helpful.
I recently came across an idea you might want to consider if you have people in your life struggling with the isolation we are experiencing during these difficult days. Listen in as we consider an old-school strategy that research has shown to be effective in caring for the emotional health of people close to us.
It’s an idea that comes out of a newspaper article by Jamie Friedlander in the Washington Post on September 15, 2020. entitled, “Who Needs Another Zoom Call? Why Sending Letters Might Help Your Loved Ones.”It shows how getting a letter helps people who are feeling lonely and isolated. I’ll read a few excerpts from the article:
Supporting friends and family who are going through a hard time used to involve meaningful chats at the local coffee shop, venting over a glass of wine on the couch or warm embraces followed by words of encouragement. Now, because of the coronavirus pandemic, those traditions are on hold.
But we can take another approach: sending handwritten letters. The old-fashioned gesture could be particularly beneficial now: The pandemic is adversely affecting Americans’ mental health, and research suggests that being contacted by letter can lower the risk of suicide. Besides, after months of remote work and virtual communication, many people might welcome a tangible alternative to yet another Zoom call. Feel awkward writing a nondigital missive? No worries, we have you covered.
If you know someone who is troubled, that person is not alone. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there has been a stark increase in emotional distress among Americans since the pandemic began. In June, nearly 31 percent of U.S. adults reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, while almost 11 percent said that they had seriously considered suicide. The prevalence of anxiety symptoms alone was about triple that of the same time period in 2019.
One contributing factor to the national mental health struggle during the pandemic has been the ongoing social isolation plaguing millions of Americans. It’s the greatest concern of Amanda Spray, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine. “Social isolation is a symptom of depression,” she says, “and it leads to worsening of depression.” But getting a letter helps people.
“[Letters] help provide social support, even if you can’t be there with your friend or family member, holding their hand and being by their side,” says Spray.
Research indicates that such support can have a significant impact on recipients’ mental health. The medium is as important as the message. People consider letters meaningful, because so much effort goes into sending them. It takes time to find the right stationery, think about what to write, buy postage stamps, look up the person’s address and find a postbox. “It requires a kind of deliberation that is so lacking in our time of fast-paced messaging and media,” Lee says. “When you receive a handwritten letter, you reflexively start imagining the author sitting down and reflecting, thinking about you. . . . That’s why it’s so very effective at showing someone does care about you.”
To support a lonely or isolated friend with a handwritten letter, keep these tips in mind:
Don’t worry about finding the perfect thing to say.
The hardest thing about having cancer was not losing my hair or those other things you hear about,” she says. “It was the loneliness I felt when friends and family didn’t know what to say and ended up disappearing as a result.”
Lee emphasizes the importance of being as sincere and personal as possible, instead of focusing on writing the perfect message. “Sometimes, we get so distracted trying to find the right things to say, we don’t even realize that we sacrifice being absolutely genuine,” she says.
Picture the recipient before you begin writing.
Instead of thinking about yourself and what to say, envision the other person. What do you like about them? Why are you grateful to have them in your life? Have you ever learned anything meaningful from them?
Focus on the future.
If possible, share your hopes for something you wish to do or experience with the other person once the pandemic has ended. “That lens in the letter helps that person — and yourself — be a little bit more future-oriented,” Lee says. “It exudes some hope.”
Remember the elderly.
Not only are older family members less likely to be tech-savvy enough for a video chat, but they’re also more prone to loneliness, Lee says. “I think they’re especially vulnerable throughout this pandemic for so many reasons,” Lee says. “Letters could really impact their sense of loneliness and social connection in a powerful way.”
If you forget everything else, here’s the one thing I hope you remember from today’s episode. Our show in a sentence:
One effective way to care for someone feeling isolated and alone during our pandemic is to write them a letter.
Here’s what you can do in response to today’s show.
Since getting a letter helps people, write one to someone. I wrote one to my Aunt Lucille who recently turned 100 years old. Here’s what I wrote:
October 21, 2020
Dear Aunt Lucille,
I enjoyed talking to you a few weeks ago on your 100th birthday. After we talked, I started thinking about the many things you have experienced since your first birthday on October 5, 1920.
You lived through the Roaring ’20s and Prohibition. You were only 9 years old when The Great Depression started in 1929. I wonder what that was like for you, living during those difficult days.
And then there were the wars our country has been involved with since 1920. The bombing of Pearl Harbor that started WWII. You were 21years old then. Then the Korean War, Vietnam, and the wars in the Mideast since September 11, 2001.
From Woodrow Wilson, who was in office when you were born, to Donald Trump today, you have lived through 17 different presidents. I find that amazing! Who knows, maybe there will be an 18th new president in a few weeks.
You lived through so many cultural changes in your 100 years. And so many inventions, too. But in spite of all the changes you’ve seen in your lifetime, there are a few things that have been constant in your life.
For example, one thing you’ve touched on when we’ve talked in the past, or letters you have written to me, has been your faith in God. I have so appreciated your reference to praying to God. That is one constant that puts all your other experiences in life in proper perspective.
Another constant you’ve shared with me is your love for your family. You have written and spoken fondly of your children, Diane, Jean, Duane, Jack, and David, and you’ve given me updates of what is going on in their lives. It gives me a sense of being connected with my roots as I learn about my cousins. I wish I would have asked you more about Uncle Ray, though, your husband.
I distinctly remember visiting you as a young boy before I was a teenager. You were very kind and gracious to my parents and 4 siblings during our visit. I also remember our family visiting you the summer after I graduated from high school and before I started college. That was a fun time. I also remember you, Aunt Virginia, and Aunt Rodell visiting my parents back in the ‘70s or ‘80s. I think Jean may have driven you from Wadena to Milwaukee. What a kind thing for all of you to do to visit your youngest sister, my mother.
The visit I remember most distinctly happened maybe 10-15 years ago when Janet and I drove up to Wadena to spend a few days with you and Aunt Virginia. You were so gracious and hospitable to Janet and me. You made us feel right at home.
I wanted to learn more about my family history and you were so patient in answering my questions and going through all the many photographs you had of family members, both living and deceased. It made me feel connected.
During our visit, I also greatly appreciated driving past the farmhouse in Staples where you and my mother were raised. I have fond memories of visiting there when I was a kid. I never could have found that place without you giving directions from the back seat of our car.
Finally, I just want to tell you what a wonderful aunt you have been to me. And for whatever years the Lord has left for you on this earth, may he continue to richly
bless you. And may you look forward to many more years, even richer, and more joyous years, when you meet Jesus in heaven.
Your nephew, John
As always, another thing you could do is let me and your fellow listeners know what resonated with you about today’s episode. You can share your thoughts in the “Leave a Reply” box at the bottom of the show notes. Or you can send them to me in an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I hope your thinking was stimulated by today’s show, to both reflect and to act, knowing that getting letters helps people. May you find the joy God intends for you through your relationships. Because after all, You Were Made for This.
Our Relationship Quote of the Week
When an old person dies, a library burns to the ground. ~ African proverb
That’s all for today. See you next week. Goodbye for now.
If you missed last week's episode #74 on keeping our relationships healthy during the election season, click here to listen in.
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