Feb 5, 2020
By: Suzanne Kane for Psych Central
“Loneliness is proof that your innate search for connection is intact.” – Martha Beck
Loneliness is one of the most miserable feelings to experience. Being alone, however, doesn’t necessarily mean a person is lonely. They may be, although they may be quite deliberate in wanting to be alone for a time, and have no negative affects from such solitude. It’s the protractedness and sense of isolation and desperation that can set in that seems to push loneliness to extremes, even potentially resulting in worsening mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety. Yet, for those who are suffering with loneliness and want to take proactive steps to get past this toxic emotion, there are some things they can do that can help.
Wisdom & Other Loneliness Coping Strategies
A sobering statistic from the National Center for Health Studies reveals that, by 2029, more than 20 percent of the adult U.S. population will be age 65 and older. Researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine sought to identify common loneliness characteristics of seniors in retirement or senior living facilities, as well as effective coping strategies to combat loneliness. With the increasing number of senior citizens moving into such facilities, it’s important to recognize that loneliness is considered as bad as smoking and obesity in curtailing longevity.
According to the researcher’s findings, the biggest risk factors for loneliness are losses associated with age, and poor social skills. Losing a sense of life purpose was mentioned by participants as another risk factor. Of course, loneliness is subjective, researchers said, and people feel the emotion differently.
Preventing loneliness or combatting its presence, on the other hand, involves exploring interventions of wisdom and compassion. Researchers cited various studies on some of the effective loneliness coping mechanisms:
- Engaging in activities with others. Finlay & Kobayashi (2018) identified poor health as sometimes providing social engagement opportunities with family, friends and caregivers considered valuable.
- Keeping busy by yourself. Dragestet et al., 2015 found that occupying oneself was a help in combatting loneliness.
- Time for self-reflection and spiritual activities. Stanley et al., 2010, noted that there are benefits to being alone, chiefly that solitude affords time for self-reflection and conducting personally important spiritual activities.
- Shared public spaces and communal activities help decrease loneliness. Li et al., 2018, said that acceptance and optimism, informal social support, and promoting independence and autonomy can help older Chinese immigrants enhance personal resilience.
Get Moving with Almost Any Kind of Exercise
A somewhat concerning finding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), garnered from data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System for the period 2015-2018, is that more than 15 percent of U.S. adults are physically inactive. Of course, inactivity levels vary by state, with Puerto Rico coming in highest at 47.7 percent, and Colorado lowest at 17.3 percent. Why is this important? The CDC says that inactive lifestyles are a factor in one in 10 premature deaths in this country. Guidelines for recommended amounts of physical activity call for about 150 minutes of brisk exercise weekly, which can be broken down into shorter periods of time, such as 25 minutes or a 30-minute walk five times in a week. Physical activity offers mental health benefits of improving mood, feeling and sleeping better, reducing certain cancer risk, and lowering risks for obesity and heart disease.
What kind of exercise should you take up to get started? Almost any exercise will do just fine, so perhaps begin with going out for a walk with the dog, riding a bike, or engaging in a brisk walk alone or with others. You mood, mind, and body will reap the benefits.
Aerobic Exercise Offers Cognitive Benefits
While getting up and getting going often involves the ritual of drinking coffee, with the caffeine providing an energy jolt but also jumpstarting the mind, researchers from the University of Western Ontario found that a brief burst of aerobic exercise boosts working memory just as much as caffeine. Furthermore, the beneficial cognitive effects of the aerobic exercise were experienced during and following exercise, and after a short delay. The ability of caffeine to positively affect cognition and mood sometimes come with unwanted side effects during withdrawal: jitteriness, anxiety, headache, fatigue, decreased alertness and reduced contentedness. Aerobic exercise, on the other hand, has none of those side effects or withdrawal symptoms. Therefore, especially for those who may be anxious or otherwise unable to consume caffeine, engaging in aerobic exercise can help with safe and effective mood elevation and improvements in working memory. For someone who suffers from loneliness and yet doesn’t venture out much, aerobic exercise may be valuable as an intervention to get them in contact with people again.
Take Up Journaling
There’s something about the process of journaling, writing your thoughts down on paper, that serves as a catalyst to overcome loneliness. Besides resulting in a tangible document that’s accessible to review later, committing to journaling reinforces a sense of discipline, of sticking to a schedule and doing something proactive for your mental health. It’s for good reason that creative writing instructors encourage their students to take up journaling, since writing down felt emotions and capturing events as they happen often serve as starting points for future action. Whether that action turns out to be making small or significant lifestyle or behavior changes or spurs creativity in another endeavor, activity, hobby or pursuit, journaling is an important foundation for improving mental health.
How to get started is easy. Find something to write on or in, set aside time each day to jot down your thoughts, write without judgement and keep writing without stopping for the minutes you’ve allocated for this purpose. Remember that this is your journal, and doesn’t need to be shared with anyone else. So you needn’t worry about guarding your feelings. If you do have concerns that others may delve into your journal, lock it away. This isn’t about secrecy, however, but more about opening yourself up and voicing your daily thoughts, even venting, if that’s what it takes. Also be sure to detail the good things that occurred each day, how you felt when something pleasant or unexpected happened, the small successes you enjoyed, what you’re looking forward to tomorrow and so on.