Loneliness may harm your health more than you think. It ages you faster than smoking, according to a recent study by scientists at Stanford University. Feeling isolated speeds up your biological clock by about a year and 8 months, compared to a year and 3 months for tobacco.
That’s partly because of the link to chronic inflammation, which increases your risk for issues like diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s.
While most experts agree about the impact of loneliness, defining it can be trickier. There are many stereotypes and a wide range of factors involved.
You might picture a senior citizen living alone, but anyone can be vulnerable. High risk groups also include new parents and caregivers. In fact, a 2021 Harvard study found that one-third of Americans feel seriously lonely.
The causes vary too, including both environmental and psychological elements. Understanding your loneliness can help start you on the path to feeling more connected.
Adopting Healthy Habits
When you feel lonely, you’re less likely to take care of yourself. Turn things around by recognizing and responding to some of the most common symptoms.
Taking these actions can help:
- Exercise regularly. Staying active is often more difficult when you’re feeling down. Design a variety of workouts that will hold your interest. Take group classes or do things outdoors where you can appreciate nature.
- Sleep well. Loneliness may disrupt your sleep. Stick to a consistent bedtime and keep your bedroom dark and quiet.
- Limit alcohol. You might be at higher risk for substance abuse if you’re experiencing emotional pain or searching for distractions. Decide in advance how many drinks to allow yourself and take days off from alcohol.
Strengthening Your Social Circle
Loneliness is mostly about being dissatisfied with your relationships. You might benefit from making new friends and changing the way you interact with the family and friends you already have.
Try these strategies:
- Carve out time. Some studies have found it takes about 50 hours to make a casual friend and double that for closer ties. Make time in your weekly schedule for your loved ones. Eat family dinners and stay in touch with your buddies.
- Advocate for yourself. Asking for what you need helps to build healthy relationships. Set reasonable boundaries and remember that you’re worthy of love and respect.
- Give generously. Sharing your blessings with others makes you more joyful and popular. Volunteer in your community and do favors without expecting anything in return.
- Add new friends. It’s natural for some connections to lapse over time. It’s also easier for relationships to thrive when you avoid expecting too much from any one individual. Go to places where you can meet others who share your interests.
Managing Your Emotions
Use these techniques to steer your emotions in a healthy direction:
- Acknowledge your feelings. Daily reflection or keeping a journal can increase your self-awareness. Observe yourself without making judgements. Accepting your anger or sadness can be the first step to making positive changes.
- Reframe your thoughts. Try to look at situations from a more constructive perspective. Do your own reality check or ask someone you trust for feedback.
- Consider counseling. If you need more help with loneliness and depression, talk with your doctor. They can help you find mental health resources in your area that will fit your needs and budget.
Each of us experiences loneliness in different ways, so it’s important to find your own personal solution. Staying connected can keep you healthier and happier.