Is Loneliness Endangering Your Health? by Robin Trimingham
Turn on any television station and you will be bombarded with commercials for all manner of age related illnesses from incontinence and irregularity to arthritis and insomnia. But no one seems to be talking about the most common plague of the elderly of all – loneliness.
Loneliness does not warrant much air time because it is the one “cancer” of the elderly that the big pharmaceutical giants have not yet managed to concoct a pill to eradicate.
How big is this problem?
So large that the Campaign to End Loneliness Charity in the UK has estimated that there are more than one million sufferers in that country alone. Their research has concluded that “loneliness and social isolation can be harmful to our health” and they are calling for it to be treated as a public health issue. Over time a lack of suitable social interaction can literally cause our mind and body to break down by inducing stress and sleeplessness which in turn erodes our arteries, creating high blood pressure, and even impairing learning and memory.
While it is normal to experience occasional moments of loneliness as you age, you must take preventative measures at the first sign of depression to ensure that you do not develop a full blown case of the blues, just as you would take evasive measures to prevent a cold the first time that you feel a twinge at the back of your throat.
As a rule, effective remedies for isolation include: joining a class or social club, volunteering, chatting online, getting a pet (something more interactive and cuddly than a goldfish please!), putting energy into strengthening any existing relationships, or seeking counselling.
The holidays can be particularly difficult time for people who are alone both because they do not have relatives to visit, or because they are so uncomfortable attending public gatherings without a partner that they opt to stay home even when they are invited somewhere.
If you are facing yet another season of “turkey for one”, the following ideas from verywell.com may be of some comfort:
- Pamper yourself with small treats like a bubble bath or a good book
- Engage in an activity that will boost your self-esteem and keep you busy such as learning a new skill
- Understand that you are not the only one feeling this way and there are lots of people online that you can talk to who are in the same position many of whom can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/Olderhoodcom/
- Realize that most people don’t have the “Hallmark card” Christmas that you see on television
- Make a point of reaching out to the people who are around you – that cranky neighbor may well be just as lonely as you are and simply in need of a cup of tea and a friendly ear
- Maintain a gratitude journal of the things that you are thankful for and the things that are going well in your life
- Help people who are less fortunate than you are – not only will it keep you busy, you will feel great about yourself
- Spend some time thinking about what changes you can make to your life in the new year to lead a more social life
And above all remember, laughter is the best medicine. If you really are alone on a remote island with no neighbors, watch funny videos on YouTube to pass the time and chat with the people who make comments about them. At least you will know that you all have the same weird sense of humor!
By Robin Trimingham