On Loneliness

Are you feeling lonely?

Many people are feeling isolated and lonely during these challenging times. Some people after they retire or lose their jobs, miss their social connections associated with their work and become lonely. Others lose a spouse or close friend and feel it. The definition of loneliness is one of feeling isolated from family or friends, or feeling solitary with no support. Some scientists describe loneliness as a feeling of disconnection, rejection and longing. The late John Cacioppo a neuroscientist, describes loneliness as, ”…the discrepancy between what you want from your relationships and what you actually have.” This can lead to a multitude of physical and emotional problems if not addressed. The challenge, at the present time of social isolation, is how to overcome this? After doing some research I have found that this problem if not addressed may become an epidemic itself. One study found that 43% of adults ages 60 and up reported feeling lonely in the U.S. Here I will share some of what I learned and offer suggestions on how to address this issue. Here is an excerpt from an article from AARP regarding some of the research that has been done. “Julianne Holt-Lunstad, professor of psychology at Brigham Young University, said in an APA . (American Psychological Association) article summing up the research. “Being connected to others socially is widely considered a fundamental human need — crucial to both well-being and survival,” she said. “Yet an increasing portion of the U.S. population now experiences isolation regularly.” This was stated even before the current Pandemic. Holt-Lunstad presented data from scores of studies indicating that social isolation, loneliness or living alone has had an impact on the risk of premature death that is as bad as or worse than other risk factors, including obesity.” There is a 32% increased risk of early death for those living alone, according to a study of 3.4 million people, done by Holt-Lunstad. Other researchers have found a link between loneliness and increased risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, high blood pressure, inflammation in the body, depression and suicide. Loneliness can increase your risk of diseases like the common cold and can cause real physical and emotional pain. We have all become less socially connected due to the current COVID-19 pandemic and this may be problematic for many. The full effects of those coping with the Coronavirus on the front lines may not have been expressed yet and may cause further issues such as PTSD or other mental or physical trauma in the future. There are consequences as a result of all of this including higher health care costs and more deaths. John Cacioppo said “Our survival and well-being depend on our collective well-being, not our individual might.” It is important to point out that not everyone who lives alone is lonely. Some people are happy living alone. Others may have many connections and still feel lonely because they lack a stronger connection with one or two individuals. We do know people who are more socially connected live longer. So the million dollar question is, how do we achieve this during a Pandemic? What can be done to help alleviate the problem of loneliness? Here are some suggestions.

• Maintain an active lifestyle as much as possible. You can walk with a friend as long as you maintain social distance. You can ride a bike or play golf with others. Some gyms and health clubs are opening up with special procedures in place to help keep you safe, if you enjoy the comradery aspect of working out with others. Try to do something active each day and make it a regular part of your schedule.

• Keep your mind mentally sharp. Participate in regular brain exercises, think about problem solving, word games, crosswords, online games, discussion groups. Join an online book club. Look for an online group with people who share your interests. Having regularly scheduled online meetings, or games gives you something to look forward to. Sign up for an online class in a subject area that interests you. This may introduce you to other people that have the same interests as you. You may learn a new instrument and meet others interested in playing music together.

• Volunteer. Find a cause that you are passionate about and get involved. This can be done remotely if you are not comfortable going out in public due to the pandemic. Many organizations are in need of volunteers that would benefit from your individual skills and expertise. This will also expose you to like-minded people. If you are not up to joining an organization look for opportunities in the community in which you live. Let people know if you need help or are able to give assistance to others. We all have something we can share, even if it is just a kind word or encouragement.

• Connect with family and friends. Do not wait for someone to contact you. Take the initiative and call someone, to check in and chat. You may find others who appreciate the phone call or online video connection. You may want to keep up on Facebook or begin your own group to keep connections strong. Really communicate how you are feeling, and listen to others when they do the same. Just having someone to talk to on a regular basis helps to alleviate feelings of loneliness. Occasionally texting, instant messaging or emailing others to let them know you are thinking of them is also helpful. Some people still write letters and send cards in the mail to stay connected.

• Get out in nature. Hiking, bird watching, gardening are all good activities that may provide relief. Observing the flora and fauna of an area can be beneficial and help you to connect with nature. Discovering new things can help keep your brain healthy. When birds are present around homes people feel happier and healthier with less stress and anxiety.

• Express your creative self. Most people have more time available now and find art, singing, dance, cooking, writing and hobbies to be helpful. Writing in a journal can help relieve stress and increase focus. If you get lost in an activity you enjoy it helps keeps your mind active. Repetitive projects like knitting, sewing, quilting, woodworking, and puzzles have proven helpful and can even be enjoyed with others online or in person if distance is maintained.

• Spend time with pets. If you like animals a pet is a great way to alleviate feelings of loneliness and stress. It gives you an opportunity to meet other pet owners if out on walks or at a dog park. If you don’t have a pet, you can foster a pet, or volunteer somewhere with animals that you are interested in. You can also care for other people’s pets while they are away.

• If your feelings of loneliness are very severe or if you think you may be depressed seek help from a professional. Most therapists, social workers and doctors now offer virtual appointments.

Want to find out your Loneliness Level? Email me for a free copy of a Loneliness Quiz at: sherry@wlrcoaching.com

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