By Cyn Meyer for Next Avenue
According to AARP’s Loneliness Study, which surveyed adults ages 45 and older, more than 35 percent of of older adults are lonely, and loneliness is a significant predictor of poor health.
This report also found that lonely people are less likely to be involved in social events, which, too, can mean poorer health, since being social is so important for your mental, physical, and emotional well-being.
Additional consequences of loneliness include:
The good news is that being aware of your community involvement level (family, friends, neighbors or beyond) can help you focus on developing good daily habits so that you can better age in place by being healthy, happy and active.
Here are six simple steps for fighting loneliness:
Just like depression or any other ailment that feels terrible, you’d be surprised at the number of people who remain in denial without admitting to their feelings of loneliness. Acknowledging bouts of loneliness and understanding that it’s a feeling, not a fact, can help you move past it.
Also, understanding the difference between isolation and loneliness can help you tackle the source of your feelings of loneliness.
Signs of isolation include living alone, having no close relatives, never leaving the house, not participating in phone or digital chat or being alone for nine or more hours per day.
Someone suffering from loneliness wishes for more friends, doesn’t see friends and family enough, doesn’t meet enough people, has no one to rely on and spends holidays alone.
Recognizing the difference between the two can also help you realize that many things are in your control and that you can change your behavior and experiences to help relieve some of your feelings from both loneliness and isolation.
2. Make a Plan to Tackle Your Habits
After acknowledging your bouts of loneliness and understanding how susceptible you can be to isolation, you can more clearly plan and act toward improving your habits. Making an intentional plan is a huge step toward making progress. Start off simply and tackle one habit at a time until you’ve mastered it and it’s become a second-nature new habit. Then go back and take on another one.
3. Focus on Others and Be Curious
Whether new or old, your relationships with people can travel so much further if the others feel supported and heard. Rather than focus on your own feelings or insecurities, focus your attention on the other person. This will relieve pressure from focusing on your own imperfections or negative self-talk and will make them feel appreciated and more likely to open up.
When you’re putting attention on those around you, try approaching your conversations with curiosity about their lives. Being inquisitive can have a large impact on the way your conversations go.
4. Use Technology to Stay Connected
As you grow older, your social circle of family and friends are likely to spread or dwindle. One way to supplement your in-person contact is to maintain your long-distance relationships using technology.
There are plenty of options in this digital age: online chat, online video chat, video on your phone, email, etc. While learning a new digital platform can be challenging, once you get the hang of it, advantages include convenience and accessibility. Most tech-based communication channels are free or included with other bills you’re already paying such as phone and internet.
But be aware that technology can also be isolating, so use it to strengthen your relationships and not as a foundation. The AARP study found that although the internet makes it easier to share personal information, 13 percent of lonely respondents felt they have fewer deep connections when using the internet to keep in touch with people compared to 6 percent of the non-lonely.
Finding the right volunteer opportunity that works well with your personal goals and core values can be beneficial on so many levels. Not only will you have the chance to meet new people, you can benefit by feeling healthier, less stressed and happier, inspiring others to give back.
Need a how-to for finding the perfect volunteer gig? Check out these seven tips. And if you’re already clear about the type of volunteer opportunity you desire, read this guide that reviews 20 top volunteer websites to help your search.
6. Sign Up for a Class
What have you always been curious about learning? Now you have another reason to prioritize signing up for a class about it. There are so many benefits to lifelong learning, including expanding your growth experiences, building up your neuroplasticity, and of course, creating another opportunity to meet new people.
When you surround yourself with people who care about the same things you do, you’re that much more likely to align yourself with the right circle of influence — the people who will encourage you to make and reach your goals and live the lifestyle you want.
Taking Small Steps
So there you have six simple tactics you can consider implementing today. Of course, simple doesn’t mean easy… but by taking daily micro-steps, you can rewire your behavior and create healthy experiences for yourself.
By taking preventative action, you can help avoid the detrimental effects of loneliness and social isolation.
Which ideas resonate with you? Which tactics can you easily work into your life right now?
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