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:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
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
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
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
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
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.