When we think of overcoming obstacles, it’s hard to argue that anyone had more to overcome than Helen Keller. Yet Helen was human, and she didn’t go it alone; she relied on her friend and teacher, Susan Sullivan. While our circumstances may not resemble Helen’s in any way, it can be easy to feel alone or bewildered.
Humans are hardwired to interact with others, especially during times of stress, says Frank McAndrew, Ph.D., writing for Psychology Today (www.psychologytoday.com). “When we go through a trying ordeal alone, a lack of emotional support and friendship can increase our anxiety and hinder our coping ability.”
McAndrew writes that rejection by others psychologically wounds us more deeply than almost anything else. Other studies confirm that loneliness isn’t good for anyone’s health. It increases levels of stress hormones in the body and leads to poor sleep, a compromised immune system, and, in the elderly, cognitive decline.
The blog, theconversation.com, cites a study conducted by Brigham Young University in 2015 that looked at multiple studies on loneliness and isolation – and its potentially adverse health impact. Consequences include increased stress (resulting in the release of cortisol) and even premature death. Jed Magen, Associate Professor of Psychiatry for Michigan State University, writes in the post, that “just like the person long ago in the wild, someone who’s lonely over the long term can experience cortisol responses.”
This is a red flag since the lonely often feel stressed.
You Can Combat Loneliness!
Worship with a friend, eat out, share a hug or pick up the phone.
We’ve compiled ten activities to give you a spark – or to share with someone you know who might be struggling with isolation.
- Eat out – One of our most time-treasured activities, breaking bread together or sharing a meal, is a terrific way to reunite with a friend or loved one. Plus, there are no dishes! If you’re on a budget, brown bag it and meet a friend at the mall, a park or at home.
- Adopt a pet – Caring for a furry friend has many benefits. It helps to recharge those nurturing instincts, something that fills our lives and creates purpose. (Think back to when you were raising a family; being needed was integral to your role.)
- Join a club – Pick up that forgotten hobby or learn something new! You’ll meet friends who share similar interests. Also check out your local senior center. They typically offer an array of activities, from art, photography to exercise.
- Visit neighbors – Many people are looking to reconnect in a world that seems to be filled with bad news daily. A new friend may just live a door down.
- Put on your walking shoes – Pair up with a friend and walk. Malls are an ever-popular destination. During nice weather, head to a park with well-paved, even surfaces.
- Use technology – If the weather’s not good or you’re not quite feeling yourself, try using a tablet to “facetime” a friend. Stay in touch with siblings, kids or grandkids! The technology is easy to use, and anyone with younger kids can show you how.
- Worship with a friend – If you’ve been spiritually active, there’s no reason to stop. The benefits are many: you reconnect with friends; it’s a recurring activity to look forward to; and, you can talk out troubles or listen to someone else’s. Many places also offer free transportation – another plus!
- Volunteer for a cause – What better way to connect with others. You can also share your passion and learn about the progress of your favorite charity.
- Share your talents – In your working life, maybe you were a carpenter, plumber or electrician. Or perhaps you were a teacher, accountant or business manager. Almost any field would appreciate you sharing your skills and experience with students.
- Stay healthy – When you maintain a level of fitness, you automatically feel better about yourself. You also gain confidence to be out more, socialize and take part in the activities you love.
Transportation. If you need help getting somewhere, don’t be afraid to ask a friend or family member. Or buddy up with someone you know who’s going to the same place. And with the advent of Uber and Lyft, there’s never been a better time to find a convenient, affordable ride. There are also ride services equipped to serve those with unique needs.
If you can help someone with a ride, don’t be shy to offer to help.
Health needs. Sometimes older adults may feel intimidated getting out, whether it’s because of physical challenges or the impacts of aging on their self-esteem. If you need assistance, services are available.
Growing older. It’s not always easy. But at Kaplan, we are here to support you and your wellbeing.