AltaMed The Health Risks of Loneliness and How Combat Them

The Health Risks of Loneliness and How to Combat Them

When was the last time you felt lonely?

Maybe it was because you moved to a new city, lost a family member or close friend, or started a new job where you didn’t know anyone.

If you’re like three in four Americans, you’ve probably battled loneliness at some point. For most of us, a little loneliness is a normal part of life. However, constantly feeling lonely can be harmful to your physical and mental health.

Causes of Loneliness

People in their late 20s, mid-50s, and late 80s are most likely to suffer loneliness. Common causes of long-term loneliness include:

  • Not getting enough sleep/irregular sleeping patterns
  • Overload of assignments at work
  • Too much time on social media
  • Not enough quality time with loved ones

Recent studies have shown that the effects of loneliness are as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and it’s as big a health risk as obesity. If it isn’t addressed loneliness can lead to:

  • Depression
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Death

You don’t have to live with loneliness. Here are a few options that can connect you with other people and lift your mood.

Create a Writing or Audio Journal

Woman Sitting on the Floor Writing

Express your emotions: writing your thoughts down or talking things out can be therapeutic. Try creating a journal and writing in it regularly on either a daily or weekly basis, about your day and how you’re feeling. You don’t need anything fancier than a few sheets of paper or a Notepad-type program on your phone or computer.

If writing isn’t your thing, try making an audio journal. You can use the recorder on your phone to record how you feel throughout the day. Documenting your emotions can help you process situations and give you a better understanding of why you feel the way you do.

Join a Fitness Class

Senior People in a Tai Chi Class

Isolation from friends and family can take a toll on you. To meet new friends and other people in your community, try exercising. Exercise is great for your mental and physical health. Attending a weekly fitness class at your local gym or community center can give you something to look forward to and an opportunity to interact with others – you can even make new friends who have similar interests.

Many community centers and neighborhood fitness facilities offer free or low-cost classes. You can also explore Facebook groups or join Meetup to find fitness groups that are best suited for you.

Get A Pet

Woman Hugging Her Dog

Getting a furry or feathered friend can help you battle loneliness, provide some company, and give you a cuddle-buddy. In one study, 75% of pet-owners said their pet made them happier, 67% said they felt unconditional love, and 66% reported being less lonely. If you get a pet that can go on walks, you may even meet pet-owners, which may lead to doggie play-dates, and eventually, may lead to a human friendship.
If you live in an apartment or you just can’t get a pet right now, consider visiting or volunteering at a local shelter or rescue. If you visit, you’ll have the opportunity to pet, play with, and interact with lots of animals. And if you volunteer, you’ll meet new people who also love animals.

Going to Therapy

Doctor Talking To Patient

There’s no shame in getting a therapist. It can feel really good to talk to someone who gives you their full attention, and therapists can help you get to the root of your problem then help you develop “tools” for solving or dealing with it.

Within the Latino and African American communities, there is a negative perception of going to therapy that comes from the fear of a therapist exposing your “dirty laundry” to the world. Medical professionals take an oath to ensure your privacy and well-being is prioritized. They’re also required to follow the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which prohibits medical professionals from talking to anyone about what you’ve shared without your express permission.

Even if it’s common, loneliness shouldn’t stop you from living your life freely and experiencing new things. These activities are just a few of the many things you can do when you find yourself feeling lonely – or better yet, try them now to help stop loneliness before it even starts.

If you’ve experienced persistent loneliness or sadness, call AltaMed’s Behavioral Health services call (855) 425-1777. Loneliness hurts, but help may just be a phone call away.

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Sad Woman On Bed

Mental Health Matters

Mental Health is Part of Your Health

Couple at a Doctor's Appointment

The first step is recognizing that your mental health is your health. Your mental health can also affect your physical health in some serious and surprising ways. When you’re feeling down, you may be less likely to take care of yourself: you may skip dosages of a medication or not get enough sleep. You may also engage in riskier behavior, such as drinking or eating to excess, taking drugs, or acting out aggressively.

It goes both ways: people with chronic conditions may be more likely to suffer from poor mental health. And if you have a physical condition AND you suffer from depression, you may have worse health outcomes.

Understand the Difference Between Sadness and Depression

Tired Man

You’re probably no stranger to sadness: it’s an emotion that makes you feel bad or down, usually following an unfortunate or unpleasant event, such as the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or ending a relationship. Sadness is a common, and even appropriate reaction to these circumstances.

But in some cases, the sadness becomes something more, and can manifest in intense and even physical symptoms such as:

  • Fatigue/loss of energy
  • Loss of interest in things you used to enjoy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Significant weight loss or gain
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of worthlessness

If you have any of these feelings that last almost all day, for at least two weeks, and it’s gotten to the point that it interferes with your daily activities, you may actually suffer from depression.

Depression is a serious condition. It may have its roots in an event, such as a major life change (getting fired, moving away from family and friends…even the stress from a happy event like getting married may trigger it). It can be a physical condition, or it may run in your family. Even getting less daylight can cause depression.

There’s a common myth that you can just snap out of it; perhaps if you just get some fresh air, talk to a friend, or treat yourself to a nice meal, you’d be able to cheer yourself up. But that’s not how depression works. It’s not a matter of will power, commitment, or positive thinking. Unless you get help, depression can last for months or even years.

Seek Out Professional Help

Woman Listening to Her Doctor

If you think you’re suffering from depression or mental illness, talk to a doctor. Under the Affordable Care Act, all health care plans are required to provide coverage for mental health care.

Your primary care doctor is a good place to start, since they already know you and your health care history. It may be easier for you, since you’re already familiar with them.

Getting Tested and Treated

Young Man Talking To Her Doctor

Once you’ve found a doctor, they can help you determine if you do have depression or another mental health disorder, its underlying causes, and the best treatment to help you feel better.

You may be given a physical exam and lab tests to help rule out other conditions. For example, if your thyroid gland isn’t producing enough hormone, you may experience depression-like symptoms, such as a low mood, fatigue, and weight gain or loss.

At this point, your doctor may recommend medication or refer you to another doctor for additional testing and treatment.

If your doctor recommends medication, you may need to try different medications before you find the one that works for you. Having bloodwork and a history of your symptoms will help your doctor tailor your treatment, but not every patient responds to every drug. If that’s the case, communicate your feelings to your doctor, be patient, and follow their advice about your prescription.

You Don’t Have to Suffer – and You Don’t Have to Do It Alone

Women Embracing Each Other

AltaMed is here for you, and we’re committed to your mental and physical well-being. To learn more about AltaMed’s behavioral health services, call 855-425-1777.

If you have suicidal thoughts and feel like you could be a harm to yourself or others, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.

Mom and Daughter Hugging

Mental Health: Seek Help, Be the Help

Mental health and suicide have been topics of interest in the media due to the recent loss of several high-profile celebrities. At AltaMed, we are here to help so that mental health issues can be treated and do not lead to suicide. Although it may be hard, you can always ask for help and be of support to others.

Here is how you can take action:

Mother and daughter hugging

Seek Help

Seek professional help if you ever feel helpless or alone in your feelings. If you feel like you need to talk, open up to friends or family who you trust. If you feel like you need professional help, you can safely reach out to the Suicide Prevention Hotline anonymously. Once you open up and acknowledge the underlying issue, you’ll be able to move forward and work on treating it.

Two young people sitting and talking

Be the Help

Be there for those around you and look for warning signs. Speak with dignity and respect when discussing mental illness to create a safe space for others to open up without judgment. Be a positive influence on others and empower them. Encourage others to reach out to the resources listed below to get them the help they need.

Track Running

A Fresh Start

Every day is an opportunity to start fresh. Work on putting yourself first by doing things that make you feel good from the inside. You can go for a walk, dance to your favorite music, spend time volunteering and helping others, or hang out with friends or family.

If you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, reach out to our Behavior Health team at (855) 425-1777. Our licensed clinical social workers are trained to help you cope when life gets stressful.

If you are in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts, please call the suicide prevention hotline today at (800) 273-TALK (8255).

The Health Risks of Loneliness and How to Combat Them