Loneliness is an emotional experience that studies have linked to measurable negative health impacts. Older adults are at a high risk of loneliness, and the social distancing necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic has only increased that risk.
Today we'll look at the ramifications of loneliness for bone health and overall well-being. Then you'll learn 10 ways to feel less lonely. Taking these actions can lead to greater happiness and improved overall health, including bone health.
The Health Impacts Of Loneliness
Studies have linked loneliness to a variety of undesirable health outcomes. Loneliness stems from a perception of social isolation. This increases your body's vigilance against potential threats and heightens feelings of vulnerability. That hypervigilance alters psychological processes which, in turn, harm sleep quality, influence physical functions, and increase negative health outcomes.1
Studies have found several health problems that are associated with loneliness:1
- Coronary heart disease
- Increased blood pressure
- Alzheimer's disease
- Depressive episodes
- Diminished executive control
This high-stress scenario also hurts bone health. That's because of the deleterious effect of cortisol on bones. Cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, wreaks havoc in the bone remodeling process and contributes to inflammation.
Additionally, loneliness has been found to impede health-promoting behaviors.1 Essentially, feeling lonely can prevent you from taking good care of yourself. When loneliness interrupts bone-building behaviors like exercise, then bone health is jeopardized.
Sleep is also negatively impacted by loneliness.1 Loss of sleep or loss of sleep quality has confirmed negative ramifications on bone health. Your body needs the restorative period of sleep to perform the bone remodeling process.
Loneliness is a psychological state that causes stress. It has been linked to a variety of negative health outcomes including coronary heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, and depression. Loneliness harms bones via the stress hormone cortisol, behavioral changes, and reduced sleep.
10 Ways To Feel Less Lonely
Fortunately, feelings of loneliness can be addressed and changed. These 10 strategies offer simple-to-follow actions you can take to reduce and prevent loneliness from harming your emotional and physical well-being.
1. Don't Ignore Your Feelings
Acknowledging how you're feeling to yourself and others is an important first step for releasing negative emotions. Simply pretending that you're not feeling lonely might prevent you from taking proactive steps to reduce those feelings.
In fact, sometimes bottling up a feeling causes even more stress than the feeling itself. This is an undesirable outcome since the stress caused by loneliness is one of the primary ways it can harm your bones.
Share with a trusted friend or family member how you're feeling. You could even try writing about how you're feeling to process and acknowledge where you're at. Then you'll be more ready to move forward.
Acknowledge that you're feeling lonely to someone else or yourself so that you can honestly assess how you feel and take action to create change.
2. Count Your Connections
Feelings of loneliness can overwhelm our ability to recognize the connections and relationships we have. Sometimes, a lonely day can leave us feeling like we have no one to call on, when, in fact, we have a social network that would happily come to our aid.
Take inventory of the people in your life. They might include family, current or past co-workers, neighbors, new and old friends, or even acquaintances from around town.
You're probably not as alone as you feel.
Take a moment to list the people you're connected to, so you’ll realize you’re not as lonely as you think you are.
3. Learn Something New
Learning a new skill can create a sense of purpose and progress that counteracts feelings of loneliness. Sometimes boredom can spiral into negative feelings like loneliness. Having a structured activity keeps your mind and body active and engaged.
Furthermore, many learning opportunities are social. Taking a class, attending a lecture, or joining an interest group can be an opportunity to build new connections and relationships.
Plus the feeling of pride that comes with learning something new, no matter how small, can help relieve the negative emotions of loneliness.
Learning something new creates positive feelings that counteract loneliness. And many educational settings provide the opportunity to build new connections and relationships.
4. Find A Volunteer Opportunity
Volunteering has been shown to increase overall mental well-being. A study found that people who volunteer tend to be happier than people who don't.2 It's a great way to get connected to a wider community and increase contact with others.
Additionally, the feelings of pride and satisfaction that come with helping others will counteract the stress and negativity that are attendant to loneliness. Many volunteer opportunities are quite social, such as working at a soup kitchen or participating in a trash clean-up.
Others, like offering homework help to a student, create one-on-one connections, and can even be done online from your computer at home, in case mobility or transportation are a barrier.
Volunteering creates connections and positive feelings that can counteract and prevent loneliness.
5. Adopt Or Foster A Pet
The companionship and love of a pet can have a profound impact on your emotional health. The unconditional love of a pet can be a powerful solace. And the responsibility of caring for a pet creates a feeling of connection and satisfaction.
Additionally, many people create communities online and offline around their pets. Taking your new dog to a park is a great way to meet new people. Sharing pictures of a housepet can create a delightful reason to stay in closer touch with friends and family or to forge new connections.
If you can't adopt, research fostering. When you foster a pet, they stay with you just temporarily while they're awaiting a permanent home. It's a great way to get the benefits of a pet even if you can't commit long-term.
Adopting or fostering a pet can provide comfort, joy, and a sense of satisfaction. Pets are also a great way to connect with other pet owners.
6. Set A Date Night With Yourself
Time spent alone doesn't have to be empty or unsatisfying. Identify activities that you enjoy and turn them into dates with yourself. Take the time to ask yourself what you'd most like to do, and then treat yourself to that activity.
Maybe you'll find yourself at a museum, the local zoo, or a favorite café. Sometimes, when we think of certain activities as social, we forget that we can enjoy them on our own as well.
When you use your alone time to do things you love, being alone becomes a treasured opportunity that is full of joy and engagement.
Identify activities that you enjoy, and make plans to do them when you're alone. That way you can turn your alone time into an opportunity to do what you enjoy.
7. Seek Out New Friendships
One way to reduce loneliness is to invest time in building new social relationships. The idea of making new friends can be daunting. Just start with seeking out new communities to become a part of. The personal connections will naturally follow.
That could include an interest group like a book club, a workout group at a community center, a class or a lecture series.
Find existing communities you can join, like book clubs, workout groups, or a class.
8. Immerse Yourself In Nature
Studies have found that people who spent at least two hours a week in nature reported a greater sense of well-being than those who spent no time outdoors.3 If you start feeling lonely or sad, respond by returning to nature.
You don't have to travel to the wilderness to get the health benefits of the outdoors! A trip to a park, a walk through a green space, or even a visit to a botanical garden will do the trick. Once you're there, take the time to breathe deeply and observe the natural world. You're connected to nature after all!
Spending time in nature has been found to increase people's sense of well-being. If you're feeling lonely, seek out some greenery and reconnect with the outdoors.
9. Counteract Loneliness With Exercise
Exercise has positive effects on mental health and has been shown to improve mood. The neurochemical changes that result from exercise can help counteract the negative effects of loneliness.
One study found people who regularly workout experience 43.2% fewer days of poor mental health when compared with inactive people.4
Additionally, exercise provides an opportunity to connect with others. Invite a friend to go on regular walks or join a recreational sports team.
Since loneliness can cause a reduction in health-positive behaviors like exercise, this is a particularly important strategy. Not only does it combat the feelings of loneliness, but it also keeps you from suffering the bone loss that occurs when you're sedentary.
Exercise has been shown to improve mood, helping to shake off loneliness.
10. Meditate To Soothe Loneliness
Meditation is a proven path to creating inner peace. Try meditating as a way to change your thoughts about being alone. Meditation provides a space for you to accept how you're feeling and then release those feelings, along with whatever worries and thoughts are clinging to your mind.
Since meditation helps you reduce stress, it also helps you protect your bones from the negative effects of loneliness. Studies have even found that meditation leads to increases in the density of brain mass.5
The centeredness that comes from meditation will provide you with the clarity and focus you need to apply the other strategies you’ve learned today.
Meditation can help you change your relationship with being alone. Since it reduces stress, it can help you protect your bones from the detrimental effects of loneliness.
What This Means To You
You have the ability to make changes to your life that will shift for the better how you feel. Use the strategies above to improve your emotional well-being.
The Save Institute provides support for items 9 and 10 through our online video workout platform SaveTrainer. SaveTrainer offers workout classes for every level. No matter how much experience you have, our trainers will help you complete targeted bone-building exercises. SaveTrainer also offers guided meditations that can help you create inner peace. Get the support you need to start and stick with new bone-building habits.
The direct connection between stress and bone loss makes this topic immediately pertinent for Savers. By alleviating the stress of loneliness, you're also giving your bones the chance to grow healthy and strong.
Responding to Fred: thank you so very much for your comment. It helped shift, for me, the meaning of my connection to the 3 dogs who are my main day-to-day connections–by noticing how the term “pet” can set the framing of these beings as “objects.” Just reading your words I could feel the relief and joy of raising the dignity and validity of my relationships with these 4-legged characters in a way that now I see now even I was discounting when seeing them as “only pets, and not real relationships.”
Thank you Vivian for all your wise advice. It is good to be reminded of the ways we can help ourselves and others. One of the best was for me is to ‘count my blessings ‘ and be grateful for all the things that uplift my spirit. Pray if you are sad, sing if you are happy is also a good rule to follow. Blessings to you for all your good work.
I think covid has affected a lot of people. I live on my own in Scotland and I also have experienced loneliness. I have had good neighbours move away and the loss of a dear friend has not helped. My daughter lives down South and travelling by train to see her is not easy with all the people travelling. I am trying to think more positively and go for walks.
But thank you for your ideas, will certainly try to use them as well.
Quit calling animals pets – they are life forms similar to some aspects of children, have senses greater than humans, do not pollute or attempt to destroy the world, have feelings, emotions and pain as anyone else. The term pets indicates objects to do as you please and do not have the same life support values of the so called humans. Call your kids pets, not other life forms.
I have found that a good way to connect with and acknowledge my feelings is to write down with my right hand “what is going on?” and then write the reply with my left hand.
Apparently this allows a communication between the 2 hemispheres of our brain that can clear the way to more self-friendly thinking and behaviour.
This is a similar technique to expression through art but is a more direct route.
Hope this helps.
Yes I have been feeling lonely this lockdown here in the U.K. Your post Vivian has given me food for thought. Family live in France and quite a distance away in other parts of the country, so haven’t seen them for well over a year. Thank goodness for iPads and phones. Not the same but it helps. Will try to implement some of the strategies you have listed. Thank you for taking the time to share these.
Good timing, Vivian! I live alone and I typically visit family in the West Coast a few times a year, but now with COVID Im afraid to travel in a airplane. Thank you!
Thanks for these great tips, Vivian! Sometimes I do feel lonely since the covid lockdown. I will try to do as many of these as possible.
Thank you, Ita.