Anyone that says emotions can’t hurt you has never been lonely. In fact, loneliness kills.
When my grandpa died, a part of my grandma did too. She went from interacting with him daily to being alone in a large house that she didn’t want to sell out of nostalgia. Her mental health plummeted.
A few months later, she was diagnosed with severe dementia. She refused to shower. She refused to take her medications. She even refused to let my mom come in to help her clean the house. Not only did her mental health fall, but her physical health declined. A few months after that? She moved into a memory care assisted living facility.
A large group of people who make up the lonely population is retirees and the elderly. According to one study in particular,
“Between 20% and 43% of U.S. adults over age 60 experience frequent or intense loneliness.”
Now, with COVID-19 sweeping the world, more people than ever are lonely. Social distancing and isolation are leading to increased disconnect from others and society. As the COVID-19 pandemic grows, so does the loneliness pandemic.
There may not be a cure for COVID-19 (yet) but there is one for loneliness: social connections. Social connections can reduce premature mortality by up to 50%. That’s science. We’re going to go over five ways to combat loneliness.
Tip#1: Join social groups
Joining social groups is key to overcoming loneliness. Everyone likes something, whether it’s reading, writing, cooking, painting, etc — there’s a group for that! When I moved, I joined a group that was just dedicated to trying new restaurants. What can I say? I like to eat. My point is that there are all sorts of groups you can participate in to connect with other humans and do something fun. You can find them through your local community center, websites like Meetup, or even NextDoor.
If you know someone elderly who is suffering from loneliness, then go with them to a meeting or two to help get them started. If that’s not possible, you could always help them research some social groups they may like — it would take an hour out of your day and that interaction alone would mean the world to them.
During COVID-19, physical social groups aren’t the best idea. An alternative to this would be to join online ones. There are numerous Facebook groups out there for all interests. So join one and make a post. Take a picture of that pie you baked and show it off to the group. Try someone’s recipe and let them know how it was. Give each other painting tips. Interact. Make connections.
Tip#2: Join support groups
Support groups are a bit different from social groups. These will be focused more on specific problems and how to overcome them. The interesting thing about these groups is that you’ll be able to interact with people experiencing the same hardship as you. Maybe they live alone. Maybe they’re fighting an illness. Maybe they lost a loved one recently. You’ll be able to get some support and create new connections to people. After all, no one else will be able to understand you as well as those going through similar situations.
Due to COVID-19, a lot of support groups have moved to either online sessions (using services like Zoom) or even phone conferences. Although there’s no substitute for face-to-face interaction, the discussion will still prevail.
Tip#3: Interact with kids
My boyfriend’s grandma has a lot of grandkids and great-grandkids. In her house, there’s always kids with cheeks waiting to be pinched, a million questions on their tongues, and active attempts to assault the wall with crayons. It’s enough to keep anyone on their toes, and his grandma is sharp. Research shows that interacting with kids helps the elderly and keeps loneliness at bay. Volunteering at schools, daycares, even libraries will allow people to interact with kids more. If you have relatives with kids, chances are they could use a break every now and again — babysitting is a wonderful option if you’re able.
Of course, during COVID-19, we can’t interact how we would normally like to. An alternative is to keep in touch with kids in the family through methods like FaceTime and video chat. Even just looking up some of the funniest videos on YouTube starring kids can brighten your day. You’ll find they give a fresh, unique perspective to most things.
A lot of the time, when people retire they’re no longer actively contributing to the community. After a lifetime of working, it’s quite a change. A way to still stay active, helpful, and feel needed? Volunteering! Even if you’re not retired yet, but just want to help a cause, try it out. So many places are hurting for volunteers. Soup kitchens. Animal shelters. Non-profits. People need people, and if you have even an hour or two a week that you’d like to contribute to a cause? Great! Volunteering is a wonderful chance to interact and help your community out.
While we’re still trying to defeat COVID-19, a lot of organizations aren’t accepting new volunteers (unless they're online-based). That’s okay! Now’s the perfect time to start hunting for where you’d like to volunteer after this virus clears up. You can even start contacting them now to see if there’s any paperwork you can fill out to prepare. Besides, you may be surprised — there may be remote volunteer opportunities.
Tip#5: Be open to compassion
Before you roll your eyes, let me explain. It sounds corny, but being open to compassion and help is one of the biggest things you can do to combat loneliness. A lot of people become jaded to assistance and kindness from other people. That’s understandable. The world can be cruel. People can be even crueler. But kindness exists. It’s real. Just as people can be cruel, they can also be caring and compassionate. So if you find someone holding out a helping hand, don’t be afraid to take it. Figuratively, anyway, until COVID-19 is gone!
Loneliness kills. It causes mental and physical health problems, increasing the risk of an early death. It can target anyone, anywhere, but it especially targets our senior population. Retirement should be our golden years! Not a death sentence.
Self-care and preventing loneliness is essential. Loneliness is a pandemic, but together, we can fight it.
You can create meaningful social connections in many ways. Join social groups and support meetings. Interact with kids. Volunteer. And always be open to compassion. If you do those things, then you’ll build connections, feel valued, and be so much healthier.