According to a 2023 Gallup Poll, loneliness affects 44 million American adults, which is equivalent to 17% of the population. While the trend has been declining since the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, loneliness continues to affect the well-being of millions of people. The national poll found that young adults under age 30 and those in lower-income households suffered higher levels of loneliness.
Older adults are at increased risk for loneliness and social isolation. A 2020 report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found that more than one-third of adults ages 45 and older feel lonely and nearly one-fourth of adults ages 65 and older are considered to be socially isolated. Living alone, losing close family members or friends and suffering from chronic diseases contributes to loneliness in older adults.
Feelings of loneliness are associated with a higher risk of heart disease, mental health issues and premature death.
Loneliness is something that we all feel at some point in our lives. It’s part of being human.
But loneliness is far more than just experiencing occasional sadness. It’s defined as being in emotional distress from a lack of close interpersonal relationships.
Loneliness can affect anyone and everyone, including young adults, older people, people who live in big families or those who have been married for many years. Anyone can feel lonely if they experience unfulfilling or unrewarding emotional connections.
Loneliness can appear in various ways. Here are some common symptoms that may be a sign of loneliness:
-Decreased interest in activities
-Lack of close relationships
-Overreliance on technology
Researchers have identified several causes of loneliness. Known culprits include: alcoholism and drugs, depression, grief, lack of meaningful connections, living alone and chronic physical disabilities.
Although loneliness and social isolation are not clinical diagnoses, unlike major depressive disorder and other common mental health conditions, its effects can be profound on mental health. It is connected to higher rates of depression and suicidality.
Other physical health effects of loneliness include: heart disease, neurological disease, premature death, sleep disturbance and weakened immune system.
It’s normal to feel lonely from time to time, but if you’re experiencing loneliness on a regular basis, then there are several ways to build meaningful relationships in your life.
Here are 10 ways to combat loneliness:
- Deepen relationships
Lack of close interpersonal relationships causes loneliness, so focusing on creating quality relationships with family members and/or friends will help address feeling lonely. Start with your family – both immediate and extended members – to identify relationships that could be strengthened. Broaden your circle to include friends, neighbors and other members of your community or consider getting back on the dating scene and developing a romantic relationship.
- Explore hobbies
Participate in social activities, clubs or group events that you enjoy and distract yourself from being lonely. Clubs and activities that include others who share common interests can give you a sense of belonging and connection. If you like gardening, find out if there’s a garden club in your area. If you like to walk, seek out a walking club in the community or consider starting one.
- Get out of the house
If you’re feeling lonely, find opportunities for interaction. Maybe you go shopping and talk to the salespeople at the store. Take an outdoor walk through the local park or stroll down main street where there are people mulling about.
- Love oneself
This may come easy to some or may take longer for others, but learning to love yourself will help you through the loneliness. Many people get used to their own company and find the positives in spending time alone.
- Seek medical help
Those who are feeling lonely should talk to their doctor or seek help from a therapist or psychologist to get medical advice and support.
- Adopt a pet
Owning pets can offer great companionship, unconditional love and purpose in their lives to offset the feelings of loneliness. Pet owners sometimes find it easier to talk to other pet owners who share a common interest in animals. One recent study found a strong correlation between pet ownership and reduced levels of loneliness.
- Get physically active
Engaging in regular physical activity releases endorphins, our “feel-good” hormones, that are known for boosting your mood and reducing feelings of loneliness. Group exercise classes can be helpful to develop a sense of community and provide opportunities to socialize.
People need social connections to survive and thrive. Making new friends can be an effective way to foster meaningful connections with others and develop a sense of belonging. This can be done by joining a group or club, taking adult classes or volunteering for a community organization. There are many nonprofits in the Illinois Valley that have meaningful ways to volunteer in your community. You can go to https://illinoisvalleyweb.org/ to look for volunteer opportunities.
- Engage in social media – in moderation
Research is mixed on whether engaging on social media can help minimize or exacerbate loneliness. Social media provides platforms to stay connected with family and friends which is helpful when they live far apart. However, loneliness can be aggravated by social media because of the carefully curated content that creates the appearance of perfect lives, causing feelings of inadequacy. Like everything, find the right balance between engaging, but not obsessing over social media.
- Talk to a friend
A 2021 study of 240 older adults found that by talking to someone on the phone for 10 minutes several times a week lowered rates of loneliness. By calling up family members, a high school classmate or work friends instead of texting or emailing will create a stronger sense of belonging and help build closer relationships and ultimately reduce loneliness.
Bottom Line: Breaking the cycle of loneliness is possible. The key is to build relationships and human