Overcoming Loneliness

Feel Less Alone with These 5 Strategies

According to the Cigna U.S. Loneliness Index, three out of every five adults, or roughly 61%, reported that they were lonely – and that study was published in January, mere months before the COVID-19 pandemic forced people to isolate themselves inside four walls and spend more time alone. Loneliness has reached epidemic levels in the United States, yet many people are unsure of how to address this complex emotion; although a common experience, loneliness can be difficult to define clinically. Here, Dr. Chris Harris, a licensed professional counselor with Focus Treatment Centers, discusses the toll that loneliness can take, as well as strategies that can help you feel less alone.

Humans are social creatures – it’s what helps us survive. However, as we grow older, it is common for our social networks to dwindle, leading to feelings of isolation and loneliness. Of course, loneliness isn’t confined to one group of people, such as the elderly or those who live alone. Dr. Harris points out, “Many people feel lonely who are married, have a large friend group, or are popular in social gatherings. The quality and level of intimacy in our relationships matter more when it comes to feelings of loneliness than the number of friends we have.”

Unfortunately, if left unchecked, loneliness can have a severe impact on your overall health.

In fact, loneliness has been linked to mental health problems, including anxiety and depression, as well as respiratory illnesses, cardiovascular disease, sleeping disorders, and other illnesses. “A recent study from Brigham Young University on loneliness found that it can be as damaging as smoking 15 cigarettes a day,”  Dr. Harris shares.

In more recent months, the introduction of COVID-19 and its repercussions, including lockdowns and stay-at-home measures, has exasperated the problem. “With direct ‘social distancing’ guidelines that have been issued across the nation, people are less likely to interact with their family and friends,” Dr. Harris explains. “The consequences of COVID-19, using what we know about loneliness, are impacting both physical and emotional aspects of connection, which places our mental health at significant risk.”

In the age of COVID-19, you may be wondering what you can do to abate feelings of loneliness. The following tips can help you cope during these unprecedented times:

Connect virtually.

“Everyone is learning how to FaceTime, Zoom, etc., these days,” Dr. Harris says. “Schedule a time to talk to family members or reconnect with old friends.” Of course, don’t feel limited to family and friends! You can participate in online exchanges with people from around the world, whether via online sports games, dating sites, or forums that relate to your hobbies and interests.

Join an online support group.

The popularity of online support groups has risen exponentially since the start of COVID-19, and these groups can provide benefits that other avenues may not. “Talking with others who are experiencing similar feelings of loneliness can be very helpful,” Dr. Harris explains. “You’ll not only get ideas for improving your personal situation, you’ll also gain perspective in realizing that you’re truly not alone in how you feel.”

Get physical.

Dr. Harris suggests, “Give a hug to those living with you, and spend extra time connecting physically. Physical touch is a love language and can aid in creating intimacy.” On a different note, getting physical – as in physical activity – can do wonders for your mental health. Try a YouTube video of a new workout at home, or you can go for a 30-minute walk around your neighborhood.

Stay busy.

This might look like starting a new project, learning a new skill, or finding healthy distractions, such as reading and listening to music. Doing something kind for someone else – perhaps by sending a handwritten letter in the mail or checking in on a neighbor – not only benefits the other person, it may help you feel less alone by improving your connection to others.

Find an online therapist.

“If loneliness, anxiety, and/or depression are negatively impacting your life, it may be a good time to reach out to a professional. Whenever mental health symptoms begin to affect our relationships, work, sleep, and appetite, it is a warning sign,” Dr. Harris advises. “A variety of online therapy websites are out there with many different options.” Don’t let your symptoms take over your life before you reach out for help! HS

Picture of Dr. Chris Harris

Dr. Chris Harris

Director of Eating Disorder Programs & Licensed Professional Counselor, Focus Treatment Centers

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