By Nance Ebert, Contributing Writer
REGION – While some people might enjoy solitude, there are others who find being alone quite painful. Loneliness can actually cause a multitude of health problems including weight gain, sleep issues, depression, a weakened immune system and more.
There are many reasons for a person to feel lonely. Things that can contribute to this feeling are the loss of a spouse or close friend, a move to a new area, a physical illness, depression and more. The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly played a role that has left many people, who were not able to see family members and loved ones for almost two years, feeling depressed, isolated and lonely.
In the May 2020 newsletter from Massachusetts General Hospital, Dr. Matthew L. Russell, a geriatrician and palliative care specialist at the hospital, said, “Loneliness amongst the older populations will be a much more insidious cause of casualty than we previously realized.”
A variety of solutions
There are, however, many things you can do to cope with loneliness and turn things around. To begin, try to think of activities you enjoy. Things like exercise, a craft or hobby, reading, singing, cooking, volunteering and more. Sometimes it is helpful to even make a list so these ideas are written down so you can now try to implement some of them.
Joining a gym or signing up for a class puts you in an environment where there are people around. Making connections in this way can be such a positive experience. Local libraries are also a terrific resource for book clubs, museum outings, volunteerism, event passes and more. Senior centers also have a host of ongoing activities at your disposal and are a great way to meet people in your age bracket. Many towns have a choir or a chorus group for those who love to sing. There are typically a few concerts each year and singing has been known to lift one’s spirits.
Animals play a key role in warding off loneliness as they make great companions who love unconditionally. If you are an animal lover, you can volunteer at an area shelter or even choose to adopt a pet.
There are many venues within every community that benefit strongly from those who volunteer. These might include a local school, nursing home, soup kitchen, meal delivery and more. Depending on your proximity to any of these types of places, you could simply call and see if they are looking for volunteers to help in any way. Elementary school children, in particular, love to have visitors come into their classrooms to read or help with a project.
Whatever activity you enjoy, it’s important to be engaged in life. While it is nice to make connections while doing so, even if that doesn’t always happen, the fact that you are participating is still beneficial to combat loneliness.
A website that offers group activities is meetup.com. The groups are formed based on common interests and they are in many locations. Other resources and organizations include the AmeriCorps Senior Program, Friend to Friend America, Eldercare Locator, and the National Council on Aging.
One thing to keep in mind is that if loneliness is adversely affecting your life, you might want to reach out to a mental health provider or your primary care physician. Situational loneliness is temporary while chronic loneliness is felt all of the time.
Some places of employment have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) where they will offer discounted or even free of charge services that include therapists to help you work through a bout of loneliness.
Self-care is also very important. Maintain a healthy diet, exercise and get a good night’s sleep. Getting outside in the sun while taking a walk is a double win as you are absorbing vitamin D and increasing your serotonin levels and endorphins.
Whatever route you choose to help you cope, you will likely feel empowered once you take control of your situation. Whether you reach out to an old friend, engage in an activity, speak with a professional, volunteer or spend time with loved ones, there are many ways to connect and reduce your feelings of loneliness.
Massachusetts social isolation task force hosts summit (fiftyplusadvocate.com)
Boston-based ‘friendship’ organization helps older adults avoid social isolation (fiftyplusadvocate.com)
Navigating the challenges of aging alone (fiftyplusadvocate.com)