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On-Demand Webinar: When Loneliness Becomes Overwhelming

Conducted by Dr. Kelly Maxwell Haer, Director of the Relationship IQ Program at the Boone Center for the Family, and Sharon Hargrave, Executive Director of the Boone Center for the Family

In the third of a five-part webinar series aimed at helping church leaders and their congregations during COVID-19, Dr. Kelly Haer discussed ways to both identify and deal with the loneliness that's become an almost unavoidable side effect of the Covid-19 crisis. Access the full webinar on-demand here.

As Director of the Relationship IQ Program at the Boone Center for the Family, as well as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Dr. Haer shared insights into the anatomy of loneliness, finding ways to identify and locate loneliness, and finally, learning how to accept it.

She began with a surprising statistic.

As part of a pre-COVID-19 study done in partnership with the Barna Group, the Boone Center investigated how a range of mental and emotional issues impact church members. One unexpected finding was that of the 32% of US adults who reported feeling loneliness, there was a distinct generational gap – with Millennials experiencing the highest rates.

"This flies in the face of what we traditionally picture when we imagine someone who's lonely," Dr. Haer said. "We tend to picture someone who is older. This is no longer the case."

She then delved into a deeper discussion of why we experience loneliness in the first place.

"So what is loneliness at the end of the day? As Christians, we understand that God is a relational God, and we are created in His image," she said. "What this means is that humans are fundamentally relational beings – being in relationship with others and God is not optional. It's truly a need. And when we're not in relationship with others, we aren't truly thriving."

Dr. Haer also addressed the different ways loneliness can manifest itself.

"It's important to note that sometimes loneliness can register as sadness, depression, or even anger," said Haer. "So if you're thinking of someone you're helping who appears depressed or angry, it's possible that they're actually struggling with loneliness – particularly during this time of COVID when so many relational structures in our lives have been torn down, and we aren't seeing people as regularly as we normally do."

But it's not just about our relationships with others. It's equally important to understand the relationship we have with ourselves. To highlight this point, she shared an intimate detail from her own life.

"I became a mom nine months ago," she said. "And as you might imagine, the demands in my life increased a lot. All of a sudden, here's this tiny baby to take care of. So my relationship with myself suffered. I didn't have the same amount of time to think, and feel, and be aware of what was going on with me."

She also pointed out just how important it is to understand that we can't eradicate loneliness altogether.

"Remember that God made the world good and perfect, then sin entered into the world," she said. "What this means is that there is brokenness – there are things that are not the way they're supposed to be in all aspects of life. So having an attitude of acceptance can be helpful."

Before taking questions from the live webinar participants, Dr. Haer also discussed the value of structured activities in uncertain times.

"You might plan to have a regular walk with a person," she said. "Maybe it's a social distance walk, but it's a regular planned activity. Or planned video calls. You can also add the structure of participating in a digital Bible study – making a point to focus on what the words are actually saying as a way to meditate on God's goodness and His character."

"The point is to reach out for connections in the areas that you've identified loneliness," she explained. "When we're willing to share the good, the bad and the ugly, greater connection is built off of that."

To hear more of Dr. Haer's thoughts, as well as her answers to a number of thoughtful participant questions, watch the full webinar on-demand.