As we age, our social networks are disrupted, which can leave us feeling isolated and lonely. Children and grandchildren move away. Spouses die, leaving about 12 million older Americans living alone. Retirement may mean that we don’t see work colleagues anymore. Illness or disability can make participating in activities much more difficult. Family and friends may become ill and housebound, too. Loneliness affects our health. Some researchers claim that loneliness is as bad for our health as smoking, and that it has the same effect as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day. But we can combat it. Here are ten great ways to help ease loneliness.
Understand Your Loneliness
Keep a record or simple journal – be aware of when you feel lonely. It helps to be aware of what triggers your feelings. Maybe you feel down after eating lunch on Sunday because that’s the day you always ate Sunday lunch with your family. If you’re aware of what triggers these feelings, you’re more likely to be able to do something to improve them.
Connect (or Reconnect) with Siblings
If you are fortunate enough to have siblings, stay in close contact with them. A 2009 study suggested that frequent contact with siblings in older adulthood helps our wellbeing as we age. If you’ve become less close to siblings – or other family members – as you’ve gotten older, consider reaching out to them.
Take Advantage of Technology
In addition to keeping up with friends and family, technology can help you get back in touch with people you’ve fallen out of contact with. Use a social media site like Facebook to catch up. Emailing or chatting online can be less intimidating than meeting face to face.
You can also use online forums to connect with people who share your interests. It can be fun to share your knowledge with other enthusiasts. And you never know – there might be a local group you can meet up with in person.
Make New Friends
Sure, you may be thinking this is easier said than done. It can be hard to make friends when you’re older, especially when you’re feeling lonely. Sometimes your confidence can wane. But first, make a list of things you like about yourself; or things others have complimented you on. This can help you understand yourself better and boost your confidence as you prepare to meet new people.
Get Involved with Your Community
Check out your local senior center for activities or meals. Or consider joining a book club – books are ready-made conversation starters. If you enjoy gardening, look for community gardens in your area and help out. And so on!
Learn Something New
A class can help you learn something new and help you connect with people in your community. It’s easier to strike up a conversation with a stranger if you have the class in common.
Adopt a Pet
It’s harder to feel lonely when someone lives with you, even if that someone is a pet. Cats and dogs, especially, give us attention and even someone to talk to. Plus, walking a dog (or a cat) can lead to social contact with neighbors (and a little exercise).
Get Out of the House
Don’t let mobility problems become an excuse for staying at home. Look into public transportation, ridesharing apps like Lyft and Uber, or Dial-a-ride programs that can get you out of the house.
Helping others is a great way to combat loneliness. Check with your local chapter of RSVP or contact charities directly to find available volunteer opportunities.
Plan Your Week
Writing down your plans for the week – lunch with Carol on Tuesday, coffee with Pedro on Friday, meeting Jamal for a walk on Saturday morning – will help you look forward to social activities in the week ahead.