16 ways to help combat loneliness and social isolation
Studies show that acute loneliness and social isolation can impact gravely on wellbeing and quality of life, with demonstrable negative health effects. Being lonely has a significant and lasting negative effect on blood pressure and is associated with depression (either as a cause or as a consequence).
Our article opens channels to those feeling lonely or isolated, and that combating these feelings doesn’t require a constant call for action, but you will need to give yourself a push to start feeling better… to get back into the thick of life and re-engage with others.
Here are 16 ways to help combat loneliness and social isolation:
1. Make a plan.
There are two basic types of loneliness. Acute loneliness results from losing a loved one or moving to a new place, for example. In these situations, chances are you know at some level that you’ll have to go through a period of adjustment to get through this feeling of loneliness. The other type of loneliness is the chronic subjective type, which strikes despite your existing relationships. Both require a plan of action. One strategy is making a point to meet people who have similar interests. Volunteering and exploring a hobby are both great ways to meet kindred spirits.
2. Do something — anything.
Fill in your diary. It can help you feel less lonely if you plan the week ahead and put things in your diary to look forward to each day, such as a walk in the park, going to a local coffee shop, library, sports centre, cinema or museum. In depression treatment there’s a theory called behavioural activation, which is a clinical way of saying, ‘Just do it.’ If you’re feeling lonely and want to change it, any small step you take – even striking up a casual, friendly conversation with the barista at your corner café – is a good move.
3. Learn to love computers.
If your friends and family live far away, a good way to stay in touch, especially with grandchildren, is by using a computer, mobile or tablet device. You can share emails and photos with family and friends, have free video chats using services such as Skype or FaceTime, and make new online “friends” or reconnect with old friends on social media sites such as Facebook and online community group forums.
4. Have realistic standards.
‘Loneliness is a mismatch between your ideal and what you actually have,’ Hawkley says. Part of the solution may be to accept that you can have fun and light conversation with a variety of people, and that it’s okay if they don’t become lifelong confidantes. Also, reflect on whether you have any unrealistic standards that are making it hard to connect with others and stop feeling lonely, such as expecting too much from a new friendship too quickly or relying on another person too much.
5. Think beyond yourself.
Depression can make you feel very self-focused, meaning that everything is all about you. But remind yourself that if you ask a co-worker or neighbour to join you for lunch and the person can’t make it, you shouldn’t automatically assume that he or she has rejected you. The person might have a previous lunch date or too much work to leave his or her desk. It’s important not to make assumptions.
6. Reach out to a lonely person.
Whether you’re feeling lonely now or just know how it feels, you may get an emotional boost from befriending someone else who’s lonely. “We believe there is a responsibility in the community to reach out to people who are suffering,” Hawkley says. In doing so, you can help others and yourself, too. Examples include volunteering for an organisation that helps elderly people or visiting a neighbour who’s lost a spouse.
7. Call, don’t post or email.
Social networks are fun and can provide an essential social outlet for some people, but research suggests that, on average, people do best if more of their relationships happen face-to-face or over the phone. Use a friends email or post as an excuse to call, rather than respond back via email or on social media.
8. Talk to a trusted friend or relative.
Get some feedback and thoughts, as well as a sympathetic ear, from a family member or friend with whom you trust your thoughts and feelings. This person could have some ideas about groups you might want to join to meet positive people.
9. Smile, even if it feels hard.
Take every chance to smile at others or begin a conversation with, such as making conversation the cashier at the shop or the person next to you in the GP waiting room. If you’re shy or not sure what to say, try asking people about themselves.
“Mindfulness teaches us that we are more than who we think we are,” says Jeffrey Greeson, PhD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center. Developing your meditative inner self can help you identify and release some of the thoughts that could be keeping you feeling lonely and undermining your efforts to meet new people.
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11. Get involved in local community activities.
These will vary according to where you live, but the chances are you’ll have access to a singing or walking group, book clubs, bridge, bingo, quiz nights or faith groups. If you’re limited due to geographic location, seek out online social community groups. The quickest way to discover nearby groups is to search online – example search to type, “Bingo events near me”.
12. Help others.
Use the knowledge and experience you’ve gained over a lifetime to give something back to your community. You’ll get a lot back in return, such as new skills, confidence, and hopefully some new friends. There are endless volunteering opportunities that relish the qualities and skills of older people, such as patience, experience and calmness.
13. Join the University of the Third Age.
The University of the Third Age (U3A) operates in many areas, offering older people the chance to learn or do something new. Run by volunteers, U3A has no exams. Instead, it gives you the chance to do, play or learn something you may never have done before, or something you’ve not considered since your school days. U3A is also a great place to meet people and make new friends.
14. Explore your faith.
There are only a few strategies that are proven to successfully protect against loneliness, and this is one of them. “People who have a personal relationship with their God or a higher power tend to do well,” Hawkley notes. There are a lot of factors at work here, one of them being that faith communities provide many opportunities for positive social encounters. You don’t have to have a close friend in the community to get the benefit; just feeling that you belong in the group is enough. Faith can also help you accept the things in life you can’t control.
15. Bond with a dog.
“Pets, especially dogs, are protective against loneliness,” Hawkley says. There are many reasons why this strategy works: Dogs get you out and about, they’re naturally social creatures, and you’ll have a living being to care about. If you’re not in a position to own a dog, find ways to help care for other people’s dogs or volunteer to help dogs at a shelter that need loving attention. Cats and fish can also help ease loneliness.
16. Explore therapy.
If you just can’t shake profound feelings of loneliness, isolation, and other symptoms of depression, you might want to talk to a mental health professional as part of your depression treatment. Look for a professional with a cognitive behavioural background, an approach that’s been shown to help with depression and loneliness.
There are also various helplines for you to contact in Australia – 24 hours, 7 days a week.
Lifeline is a national charity providing all Australians experiencing a personal crisis with access to 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention services. Lifeline are committed to empowering Australians to be suicide-safe through connection, compassion and hope. Visit website.
– Phone: 13 11 14
– Text (trial): text 0477 13 11 14 (available between 6.00pm – 10.00pm (AEDT), 7 days a week).
Beyond Blue provides information and support to help everyone in Australia achieve their best possible mental health, whatever their age and wherever they live. Visit website.
Feeling alone or socially isolated for a long time can be harmful. You might experience physical or mental problems or do things that are bad for you. Our blog How loneliness and isolation negatively affects your health explores some of the main signs to look for, as well as handy tips to overcoming isolation and loneliness and helpful links to get you started.
– Social Care Institute for Excellence. At a glance 60: Preventing loneliness and social isolation among older people. May 2012. Read more
– Mind Health Connect, Loneliness and Isolation. August 2015. Read more
– Everyday Health, Major Depression Resource Center. Dealing With Depression and Loneliness. By Madeline R.Vann, MPH. Read more
– Socially active older adults have slower rates of health declines, December 1, 2011. By Sharyn Alden. Journal of Health and Social Behavior.
60+Club eBooks: The Why’s of Goodness
Volume three offers a more detailed look in to identifying traits of loneliness and isolation, and ways to fight against them. It also delves the negative impacts loneliness and how detrimental it can be to your health and wellbeing. The volume includes case studies from previous and ongoing social experiments and medical studies that directly link ways to beat loneliness and isolation. We also provide ideas to help get you started. Volume three is spread over three chapters, the former being chapter 3.2. The other two chapters (3.1 and 3.3) explore a number of factors to improving health and wellbeing, such as being social, keeping in touch with friends, making new friends, volunteering, generosity, and getting quality sleep. Read more on Volume 3.
Volume Three is titled “The Why’s of Goodness”, comprising 36 pages, the volume explores three links to improve your health and wellbeing, with chapters on the three Why’s:
– 3.1 – Why you need a good night’s sleep
– 3.2 – Why being social is good for your health
– 3.3 – Why being generous after 60 is good for you
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