4 Simple Ways to Avoid Feeling Lonely
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4 Simple Ways to Avoid Feeling Lonely

Loneliness and isolation can have serious health effects—but being proactive goes a long way.

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By Stephanie Parker

Loneliness is a growing epidemic in the United States, impacting people of all ages. One small 2016 survey found that 72 percent of American adults report feeling lonely at one time or another, and AARP estimates that more than 42 million adults 45 and older are chronically lonely.

People who are lonely or socially isolated may have increased chances of dementia, stroke, hypertension and coronary artery disease. Loneliness is also linked to a higher risk for early death. Paul Irving, chairman of the Milken Institute Center for The Future of Aging in Santa Monica, California, spoke to us about why so many Americans feel alone—and how to improve your social connections.

Who feels lonely—and why

2 / 6 Who feels lonely—and why

Anyone can feel lonely at any time, but some factors can influence your risk, including living alone, being in poor health and growing older. “As you age, particularly when you leave work or family drifts away, relationships change and meeting new people becomes harder,” says Irving. Mobility issues may limit the ability to socialize or visit loved ones, too.

He believes societal changes also play a role. "More people [are] single and uncoupled," he adds, while others are having smaller families.

"Spending increasing time on social media" may factor in, as well. For example, one study published in July 2017 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine looked at a nationally representative group of almost 1,800 American adults aged 18 to 32. Those with higher levels of social media use felt more socially isolated than those with lower levels of use.

Of course, there are ways to mitigate your loneliness—or keep those feelings from popping up in the first place. Here are four suggestions.

Volunteer

3 / 6 Volunteer

Volunteering can be an effective way to address loneliness for people of all ages. Irving says it's an excellent way to relieve feelings of isolation.

Research supports this. One March 2018 study published in the Journal of Gerontology focused on the link between giving back and the reduction of loneliness among widows. Researchers found that participants who volunteered at least two hours per week had similar feelings of loneliness as a happily married person.

To find the volunteer opportunity that's right for you, you can search aggregate websites like:

Or, reach out to your local government offices via phone or website; a representative can often point you to openings in your area, including those of religious and community organizations.

Spend time with a pet

4 / 6 Spend time with a pet

Pets aren't just loveable little family members; they also keep you fit, reduce stress—and there's good evidence they can help stave off loneliness, too. Dogs, for example, can instill owners with a sense of purpose, as well as motivation to get up each morning. Walking your furry pal opens you up to the possibility of social connection, too.

If you're interested in adopting—or even just spending time with a pet, consider:

  • Volunteering: Local shelters often look for help to walk or feed the animals.
  • Fostering guide dogs: Organizations like Guide Dogs for the Blind allow you to raise puppies until they're ready for formal training.
  • Adopting a pet: You can visit your local rescue organizations, or head online to websites like ASPCA Adopt a Pet or Pets for Vets, which matches military Veterans with rescued animals.
Try a sport

5 / 6 Try a sport

Whether you're playing on a recreational softball team or joining a darts league, engaging physically can open you up to social connections—and studies have linked both individual and team sports to fewer feelings of loneliness. In one 2016 study, team sports were associated with a lower incidence of depression than individual sports. (It should be noted: people who are lonely or depressed may be less likely to participate in sports in the first place, which may also explain the connection.)

How to get involved? Start by reaching out to your town's parks and recreation department—they'll almost certainly have suggestions for leagues and outdoor opportunities. Local churches, bars and restaurants often field teams, as well. And if you're still stumped? Try visiting Meetup.com. Designed to help you find others in your community with similar interests, this gathering-oriented website includes a large Sports & Recreation selection with categories from A (aikido) to W (women's golf).

Join a Community Organization

6 / 6 Join a Community Organization

In his book Bowling Alone, author Robert D. Putnam argues that a lack of civic engagement has led many Americans to feel disconnected from others socially. Whether you ascribe to his theory or not, finding time to support your community with like-minded people could be important to addressing loneliness. Service-oriented organizations from Knights of Columbus, to the PTA, to Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts can help you improve your emotional state, as well as the world around you.

For senior citizens who may find it difficult to attend events, ride shares can help you leave your home and spend time with other people. To discover what affordable car services are available for you, contact the US Administration on Aging at 1-800-677-1116 or visit their Eldercare Locator website.