Loneliness has become a public health crisis. The U.S. Surgeon General even issued a general advisory in May to sound the alarm about the growing loneliness epidemic.
“Humans are social creatures and need meaningful connections with other people,” says Dr. Jill Amos, a licensed behavioral health psychologist for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.
Loneliness can take quite a toll on your health. “Those who are lonely are less likely to get good sleep and less likely to be physically active,” says Dr. Amos. “These lifestyle differences can contribute to high blood pressure, diabetes, and other diseases associated with inflammation. Loneliness has also been associated with cognitive decline and dementia in older adults.”
Plus, you may just feel worse when you’re lonely, even if you’re not sick. That can also take a toll on your emotional well-being over time.
Here are some ways that Dr. Amos recommends to combat loneliness:
1. Consider your need for relationships.
If you’ve retired, moved or experienced a death in your family, you may have discovered a need to forge new relationships. First, take a look at yourself and where you’ve been happiest in the past. What kind of interactions worked best for you? Use this knowledge as you work to establish new friendships and relationships. Some people thrive with a large social network, while others prefer a smaller circle of people who know them very well. As long as you experience high quality interactions, you’re unlikely to feel lonely.
2. Follow your interests
Do you like yoga, gardening, jewelry making, bird watching, pickleball or reading? Look for groups, clubs, and organization based on a love of those interests. If you love to volunteer, find a group that runs a food pantry or builds wheelchair ramps for people’s homes. Bonus: if you are shy, the formal structure of a group or organized event may relieve some of the burden of that initial interaction.
3. Try a new hobby
You may already attend a book club or play golf with colleagues, but don’t feel connected to those people. Meet some new people and make some potential new friends by pursuing a new hobby or interest. If you’re ready to move beyond your usual interests and branch out, it could surprise you in a very positive way.
4. Stay in touch with loved ones
Plan a night out with an old friend, or sign up for a class with a sibling so you’ll be sure to see them on a regular basis. Even if you live far away from your loved ones, you can nurture those close ties with technology. Stay in touch by phone, email, FaceTime, text message, or social media.
5. Develop closer relationships with coworkers
If you find yourself feeling lonely at work, you’re not alone. Be proactive and make the effort to get to know your coworkers a little better. Start by asking simple questions, such as a restaurant recommendation, and go from there. If you start to feel a connection, ask a coworker to eat lunch with you. Before you know it, you may have developed a meaningful connection.
6. Travel … or plan to travel
If you have the time and budget to travel, hit the road—or the friendly skies. Not only can you experience the joy of seeing new places, but you may meet some interesting new people along the way. If you can’t plan a trip in the immediate future, though, consider planning a vacation or journey down the road. You can research locations, develop itineraries, and connect with other would-be travelers online.
7. Seek professional help
You may try tips to reduce loneliness, only to find yourself still feeling lonely. If those feelings continue, seek professional help. A counselor or therapist can listen to your concerns and make suggestions.
8. Allow yourself some solitude, too
If you want to be with others, solitude can feel isolating. But you can choose to be alone sometimes, and that solitude can be meaningful, even invigorating. Many people are introverts, and they need some time alone to have the energy to connect with others later. It’s fine to choose solitude if it benefits you. Time alone can allow you to process situations, meditate and reflect. You just need to find the balance that works for you.
Whatever your particular social needs are, don’t dismiss them. “Every person has different social needs—and that can even vary from time to time,” says Dr. Amos. “Some may prefer to socialize with an informal group from church or their neighborhood, while others prefer a large, organized activity. The most important thing is for you to know how you feel connected to others and to develop connections that meet your needs.”
Get more information about specific health terms, topics and conditions to better manage your health on bcbst.com. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also find tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the Managing Your Health tab.