How to combat loneliness and protect your health

March 19, 2020 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Categories: Healthy Driven Minds

The outbreak of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has completely altered our lives. Schools and businesses are closing. People are being asked to stay home and practice social distancing.

Even before COVID-19 made headlines, we didn’t need to leave home for much — not to shop, not even to socialize.

Despite the online conveniences and connectedness, there are a lot of lonely people. One in five Americans say they feel lonely or socially isolated. And it hurts.

Loneliness poses a greater threat to health than obesity. It can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. How?

Research suggests loneliness impairs health by raising levels of stress hormones and triggering an inflammatory response, which in turn can increase the risk of heart disease, arthritis, type 2 diabetes and dementia, among other issues. Feeling lonely can also lead to anxiety and depression.

The prevalence of loneliness typically peaks in adolescents and young adults and then again in older adults, with seniors being most affected. An estimated 43 percent of seniors feel lonely on a regular basis.

Because loneliness is closely related to feelings of isolation, connection is important. Friendships and social support — which we already know are good for health — can help break the cycle of loneliness. How you perceive your level of connectedness to others tends to matter most, with emotionally rewarding relationships being most beneficial.

Here are 10 ways to combat loneliness and protect your health:

  1. Make daily connections. Schedule your days so you have a sense of purpose and avoid isolating yourself. Commit to having some type of emotional connection or contact with someone else each day. Since we can’t get out, text, call or Skype. Meet (virtually) with a friend for coffee. 
  2. Grow your support network. Social isolation can worsen loneliness. Reach out to others, including friends, family, places of worship, senior/community centers, local libraries and other community resources to grow your (online) network.
  3. Find a new hobby or activity you enjoy. Take up a new activity or sign up for an (online) class — painting, yoga, swimming, dance, cooking, music, meditation — anything you enjoy. You’ll get a chance to talk to others who share your interests.
  4. Adopt a pet. A growing amount of evidence suggests an association between pet ownership and better health. Some hospitals even incorporate animal-assisted therapy to help people cope with health problems.
  5. Volunteer. There’s something about giving back and helping other people that makes us healthier. Helping others through volunteering can also help combat loneliness. Volunteer online for an organization you care about.
  6. Find ways to laugh. Laughter is good medicine. It can help improve your outlook and well-being. Find something you enjoy doing that makes you laugh — watch funny movies or videos, look at funny photos, read comic strips or jokes.
  7. Practice self-care. Eat well, get good sleep, exercise regularly and avoid unhealthy habits. Give yourself a manicure or pedicure. Spend time in nature. Taking care of yourself can improve your outlook.
  8. Keep a gratitude journal. Journaling allows you to separate your feelings on paper. The act itself can be therapeutic. Use your journal to write down things you’re grateful for, a practice that can boost your mood and make you happier.
  9. Join a support group. Support groups are a great way to meet people in a similar situation, share ideas and gain a sense of togetherness. You can feel connected from home by joining an online support group.
  10. Seek help from professional counselor. A therapist can help you work through feelings of loneliness and develop strategies for reconnecting with others. If you are dealing with a co-occurring mental health condition, it is even more important to seek professional help. Some therapists are offering telehealth appointments.

It is okay to feel sad and lonely from time to time — we all do. But when these feelings prevent you from living your life, then it’s important to seek help sooner rather than later. Call your doctor and figure out what your next step is so that you can feel more connected and less alone.

Explore behavioral health resources, or call 630-305-5027 for a free behavioral health assessment.

Related blogs:

Depression can take a toll on your body, too

Learn more from Healthy Driven Chicago:

Getting help for depression

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