Making Connections Helps Loneliness

According to recent studies, loneliness is becoming a global concern affecting up to a third of the world’s population. The feeling of loneliness comes from wanting social connection in one’s life, but not having it. Feeling socially connected means having relationships in our life we can rely on to give us a sense of belonging, feel secure, loved, accepted and valued. Although we live in a hyper-connected world, many people feel less connected on a personal level.

A National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) reports more than one-third of adults aged 45 and older feel lonely, and nearly one-fourth of adults aged 65 and older are considered to be socially isolated. Older adults are at increased risk for loneliness and social isolation since they are more likely to live alone, experienced the loss of family or friends, have a chronic illness and/or hearing loss.

Loneliness is the feeling of being alone, regardless of the amount of social contact. Social isolation is a lack of social connections. Social isolation can lead to loneliness in some people, while others can feel lonely without being socially isolated. Although some people are perfectly happy being alone, others may not be. Alone doesn’t necessarily mean being physically by yourself, but rather the connections you have with others. Studies have shown, people who have strong connections with others tend to be happier, healthier and more productive.

Loneliness can contribute to health conditions like obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol and is associated with 29% increased risk of heart disease and 32% increased risk of stroke. Loneliness over a long period of time makes it harder for the body to fight sickness since it triggers the hormones the body makes when under stress.

When people feel lonely, people may not to eat healthy or exercise. It is important to make a conscious effort to eat a healthy diet of fruit, vegetables, fiber, less red meat, lots of water, and to avoid alcohol, drugs, and smoking. Although you may not feel like exercising, it is important to challenge yourself to do so. Plan a daily walk or exercise class (like the St. Therese Stretch and Strengthening class) with a friend. People who walk regularly are more likely to be healthy and feel well emotionally.

Mental sharpness can also be affected by loneliness. The ability to solve problems or remember things as we get older can be affected by loneliness. Social isolation has been associated with 50% increased risk of dementia, so mind stimulating activities like crossword puzzles, checkers/chess, reading, playing cards or word games are recommended.

Look for ways to connect with people. Too much time is spent on phones and computers.  Call someone you haven’t spoken to in a while or make a plan to get together. Getting involved with the community is another way to “stay connected”. Check-in with a neighbor when you see them in their yard or driveway, attend a neighborhood meeting, attend church and some of the many St. Therese of Lisieux events, join a St. Therese Ministry or a social group like the Rambling Roses, Shelby Township Senior Community, or volunteer at a hospital, theater, library, animal shelter, or other organization that interests you.

Although loneliness may be precipitated by being alone, having some time by yourself is also important. Find a balance between the two. Self-care time is important to “refresh” your body, mind and soul.

Loneliness has been associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide. Talk with your friends or family about feeling lonely if you think it would help. If you don’t, make an appointment to talk with a professional.  If you feel you are not getting better, it is important to talk with a therapist, doctor, or healthcare provider. Another resource if you feel unable to cope with your loneliness is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, which is available 24 hours.

Take good care of yourself. Exercise, eat healthy, get enough sleep, meditate, pray, reach out to others, and be good to yourself and others.

 Adapted from:

  • www.cdc/gov. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alzheimer’s Disease and Healthy Aging, Loneliness and Social Isolation Linked to Serious Health Conditions, November 4, 2020 
  • www.WebMd,  Health and Balance, “Don’t Let Loneliness Harm Your Health”, Reviewed by Jennifer Casarella, August 18, 2019