While many of us are lucky to be surrounded by family and friends, others are not so fortunate, my friends. This is something that really bothers me–the idea that there are people out there who are just by themselves, trying to handle life and all it brings with it all on their own!
Feeling lonely and isolated can actually have a serious impact on your health. One study, published in the Perspectives on Psychological Science journal, found that being isolated actually increases a person’s risk of death by 29 percent, and loneliness wasn’t far behind, boosting risk of death by 26 percent (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25910392/).
The Campaign to End Loneliness notes that the toll of loneliness on your health is almost the same as that of smoking 15 cigarettes a day (https://www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/about-loneliness/), and another study found in the Journals of Gerontology associated loneliness with an increased risk of developing dementia (https://academic.oup.com/psychsocgerontology/article/75/7/1414/5133324).
The good news is that you can overcome loneliness or help a loved one do so. To start, be more kind to yourself. Don’t become angry at or blame yourself when you are lonely. Limit that hurtful self-talk, take better care of yourself and remember that it’s okay to give yourself a break.
The next step is to start forming real connections with people. Of course, this isn’t easy with many aspects of our lives online these days. But retreating into the online world, as tempting as this is at times, will not help erase feelings of loneliness. We still need in-person interactions to feel as if we are connected.
You have more options than you may think for in-person interaction. If you are part of or interested in a religion, visiting a church, temple or other religious facility for services can open the door to meeting new people and engaging in social activities. If there’s a hobby, activity or something else you have an interest in–such as watching movies–chances are there are clubs or organizations you can join that focus on that area of interest. If you have a job but have not reached out to any coworkers, now is the time; you never know where you’ll find your next friend.
If you are really struggling with feelings of loneliness or isolation, don’t be afraid to reach out to a mental health professional for help. Sometimes, simply having that healthy outlet available can make a significant difference in how you are feeling.