Loneliness is an American epidemic that’s gotten much worse during the long anxiety-provoking days of the COVID-19 pandemic. A study conducted in 2019 by a major healthcare insurer showed that 61 percent of American adults reported feeling lonely, while a quarter of those surveyed said they felt their mental health was poor—and that was before the pandemic.
A more recent study conducted in late 2020 indicated that over 60 percent of people aged 18 to 25 reported being lonely “most or all of the time” and a third of all adults report severe or serious loneliness.
Combating loneliness requires an understanding of what’s causing and sustaining it. You may find that you have many regular interactions with others, but these interactions have little meaning to you. In that case, you’re looking for more meaningful connections with others.
You may find that being around others is both desirable, yet anxiety-provoking, or that you lack the emotional energy to seek out connections, in which case you may be struggling with social anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, or depression.
Although many people suffer from loneliness without any psychological disorder, some disorders are particularly prone to cause loneliness. For example, social anxiety disorder is a chronic psychological condition that causes a lot of fear, worry and distress when a person is faced with being around other people. People with a social anxiety disorder avoid being around other people if they can, not from a dislike of others, but out of an overwhelming fear of being harshly judged by others. This leads to intense loneliness.
The good news is that social anxiety disorder can be treated with psychotherapy and responds well to interventions.
People also endure existential loneliness, a profound sense of one’s life having no meaning. Both social and existential loneliness can be combated by the following tips.
Tips for Combating Loneliness
Build a web of connectedness. We can find meaning in our lives as well as stronger connections with other people by building our involvement with others. Reaching out to others can be hard to do; after all, we all fear rejection. However, take heart and try some of the following activities and resources to help you build new connections.
- Join a local club. Think about your interests and passions, then check to see if there are any local groups or meet-ups devoted to one (or more) of those interests. It’s easier to interact with other people if you know everyone shares the same hobby or interest. Meet-up.com is an online app that helps people locate others locally who share the same interests. Reddit.com may also be useful in finding local clubs and groups.
- Volunteer. Communities always need help. Consider causes that matter to you and find out if there are local volunteer organizations devoted to that cause. A few examples include libraries, animal shelters, retirement homes, charities, and homeless shelters. Political activism is another area that’s always eager for volunteers. Volunteermarch.org is a website that helps match volunteers and causes.
- Take a class. A class can be a great way to meet people. It can be anything from yoga to learning how to code.
- Structure your time. Having a schedule can help make sure you’re never at loose ends for something to do. Loneliness is often a problem when we have too much free time on our hands.
- Limit your social media consumption. Social media can be fun, but it can also be depressing. In fact, there is solid evidence that heavy use of social media makes people lonelier. People post pictures of themselves having fun, living their best lives, when in reality that may not be the case. We all have a tendency to compare our lives to those of others, and that’s a quick way to become dejected.
Take Care of Yourself
- Exercise. Exercising for your best mental health doesn’t mean running a marathon daily. You only need enough to trigger a release of endorphins in your brain, which promote a sense of mental ease, well-being and happiness. A brisk walk every day can make a world of difference. Start with five minutes and work up to twenty minutes a day, five times a week.
- Eat wisely. A diet full of highly processed, sugary and carbohydrate-loaded foods adds pounds, as well as promotes inflammation throughout the body. Add whole, unprocessed foods to your diet to help improve your emotional well-being.
- Get healthy sleep. Getting the right amount of restful sleep is as vital to survival as healthy food. Learning to practice good sleep hygiene is a big step toward getting the best sleep of your life. Consider cutting off your caffeine and sugar intake a few hours before bedtime and limiting your exposure to hand-held devices in the hour before bedtime, as blue light can promote wakefulness.
Be Kind to Yourself
Don’t forget to be kind to yourself. Loneliness is a big source of stress for tens of millions of people, so you never need to feel alone. By taking steps toward building new and better relationships, as well as strengthening current relationships, you can reduce your loneliness and feel connected to others again.
If you have been struggling with feelings of loneliness that may even result in depression or other psychological disorders, consider transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). TMS is an FDA-approved non-invasive treatment for major depression disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. TMS Therapy is a medication-free treatment that uses targeted magnetic pulses to stimulate areas of the brain that affect mood. This form of treatment has no proven side-effects in clinical trials and can help you get back to your best life. Among the many treatment options out there, TMS therapy is an effective alternative treatment that is eligible for coverage by most major health insurers.
This blog post is meant to be educational in nature and does not replace the advice of a medical professional. See full disclaimer.
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