You have probably never thought of loneliness as a disease, but, more and more, loneliness is being viewed as a serious health malady. In fact, studies have linked prolonged loneliness to mental health conditions such as depression and debilitating anxiety as well as contributing to heart disease and other physical conditions.
Loneliness is a worldwide problem. It is so serious that both the United Kingdom and Japan have Ministers of Loneliness as high-level appointees in their respective governments. Their role is to confront the degree of loneliness and isolation within their populations and develop programs and strategies to help people who suffer to find relief.
Obviously, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the loneliness problem. People were forced to the confines of their own homes, with limited access to other people. Social gatherings became nonevents. Traditional meeting places, such as churches, recreation centers, entertainment venues, and even neighborly get-togethers became virtually nonexistent.
Older people are hit especially hard with loneliness. Seniors living alone or those with serious illnesses that limit their mobility and ability to perform daily functions such as cooking, showering, or grocery shopping report high rates of depression and anxiety directly linked to isolation and loneliness.
Even if you are housebound, there are many ways to combat loneliness. Here are some strategies you can employ for yourself or a loved one.
Stay engaged. The most important thing you can do to combat loneliness is to be engaged with other people. Whenever possible, attend gatherings of friends or colleagues. If possible, regularly participate in your religious congregation and volunteer for things that need to be done.
If you are housebound, let your minister or rabbi know, and they can arrange for other congregants to come visit you on a regular basis. If you need assistance with meals, contact your local Meals on Wheels program. Check to see what programs are sponsored by local charities that bring people together.
Go low tech. The good-old telephone is a wonderful way to keep in touch. Throughout the pandemic, I called a wide range of family and friends every day, just to chat and reminisce. It aways made me smile when I got off the phone.
If you have a smartphone, you can do video calls with friends and family. Seeing and talking to a grandchild is a spirit booster. And don’t forget your legs. In my grandfather’s later years, he would take a daily walk to a nearby park, where he and a few of his old buddies would sit and schmooze for hours.
High tech works as well. During the pandemic, I did two Zoom calls a week with two different groups of old friends. We have continued to do so, and it is a wonderful way to combat loneliness. If you have Internet access, you can easily do these video calls. Ask one of your grandchildren or another kid from the neighborhood to help you set it up. You can be linked all over the world with this technology. And be on the lookout for new ways to engage through the emerging technology of artificial intelligence.
Loneliness can be deadly, especially over a long period of time. The most important strategy is to work hard at staying engaged and not give up.