Tag Archives: loneliness

Loneliness is Dangerous

Loneliness is the new smoking. Meta-analysis of over 300,000 patients found that social isolation poses as high of a mortality risk as chronic smoking. Thanks to the interwebs and the widespread use of social media, we are supposedly more “connected” than ever before. Yet as a nation, we are also more lonely. In fact, a recent study found that a staggering 47 percent of Americans often feel alone, left out and lacking meaningful connection with others. This is true for all age ranges, from teenagers to older adults. The number of people who perceive themselves to be alone, isolated, or distant from others has reached epidemic levels both in the United States and in other parts of the world. In the United Kingdom, four in 10 citizens report feelings of chronic, profound loneliness, prompting the creation of a new cabinet-level position (the Minister for Loneliness) to help combat the problem.
However, exactly how the subjective sense of loneliness (experienced by many even while surrounded by others) is a threat to health, may be less intuitive.

While this “epidemic” of loneliness is increasingly recognized as a mental health issue, what’s becoming more recognized to researchers is the role loneliness plays as a critical determinant of health.

Loneliness can be deadly: it has been estimated to shorten a person’s life by 15 years, equivalent in impact to being obese or smoking 15 cigarettes per day. A recent study revealed a surprising association between loneliness and cancer mortality risk, pointing to the role loneliness plays in cancer’s course, including responsiveness to treatments. Biologists have shown that feelings of loneliness trigger the release of stress hormones that in turn are associated with higher blood pressure, decreased resistance to infection and increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. There’s even evidence that a perceived sense of social isolation accelerates cognitive and functional decline and can serve as a preclinical sign for Alzheimer’s disease.

More than ever, during and post-pandemic, combating the mental and medical health deficits of loneliness appears to be a crucial goal for public health. Also see 13 Ways to Fight Loneliness.

Mental Health and Our Elders

The Loneliness in Older Persons study, published in 2012 (Journal of the American Medical Association; JAMA), studied 1,600 adults with an average age of 71. The results concluded that among participants who were older than 60 years, loneliness was a predictor of decline and premature death. This study also concluded that loneliness can lead to depression, cognitive impairment, and coronary artery disease.

Harvard Medical School conducted a study in 2015 featuring a similar conclusion; the key to healthy aging unequivocally is relationships. What our aging parents need most from us is our time. It does not matter how many expensive gifts you have delivered to your parent’s doorstep or how many cards you send to their mailbox; what they need most is your presence.

Essentially, a portion of the power is in our hands to increase the longevity of parents’ lives. The importance is not placed on what you do together, but the fact that you are spending time together.

Here are a few reasons why spending quality time with your folks can be good for mental health, theirs and yours.

Make up for the Lost
If either of your parents weren’t around much when you were growing up, there’s no better way to make up for lost time than being there for them as they get older.

Learning Ancestry
Spending time together now allows you to get to know each other more, and you start seeing them in a different light. There is still a lot that you can learn from your parents even once you are an adult, vital life skills and ancestral knowledge and traditions that only a parent can share with their child.

Mend Broken Relationships
Maybe you missed out on a lot of the parent-child relationship because you frequently clashed. Reach out to them; don’t miss out on spending the last few years with your folks because of pride. Past mistakes cannot be undone, but you can patch things up. This does not mean that toxic relationships should be swept under the rug. Not everyone can mend; but for many relationships, it is possible.

The following are simple ideas to alter the scenery for when you visit your parent/parents:
Visit them in their home. If they live by themselves, consider baking them goods to bring over, bringing a delicious treat they would not normally indulge in, or buying magazines or books for them. It’s healthy to have your parent looking forward to something new each day, no matter how small the surprise may be. Novelty pings our brain. It also keeps them in touch with the outside world, if they aren’t able to leave their home often.

If their physical health permits, try a new bakery or restaurant. The idea is to pick a place where you can speak to one another, within a new environment.
Maybe your mother enjoys scrabble. Or your father finds a chess game to be exciting. Engaging in a game is a distraction for themselves, and provides them the outlet to keep on thinking strategically.

Watch one of their favorite films with them. Ask, why is it a favorite?
Cooking their favorite meal for after the movie can be a great way to talk about the movie over food. Positive associations alleviate depression.
Reading your or their favorite books aloud, especially to parents with dementia-related ailments.

Listening to music they loved together. Music is evocative and is a stimulus for memory.

Going through old photo albums with your parent, as you listen to the stories and memories behind each photo. See The Psychology of Nostalgia.

Touch through grooming. Perhaps give them a manicure, brush their hair, put on make up or hand lotion together. The small acts of ADLS can increase connection.

Looking through their letters, files, and memorabilia with them. People save what they value. One patient learned about her mother’s life through shared letters from a lost love: As an individual, not a spouse, mother, or sibling. It was deeply moving for both of them, a peak experience.

Showing them new technology- your parents will always be awed by how far technology has come. And then they will be happy to tell you how such gadgets were not needed to communicate back in the day.

Also see 10 Tips to Support Home Medication Management for Seniors.

How to feel less alone: 10 Tips

Social media helps us feel less alone. When you click like on somebody’s post, it’s a tacit agreement that you are not alone. You are with somebody else and their statement of being in the world. The main distinguisher: Being alone is a physical description (meaning when we are alone, we are just not with people), while loneliness is a feeling that often is experienced as negative and painful, and can occur in a crowd.

For many of us, aloneness is a negative state of being. Society doesn’t help us with this notion either; being alone often carries a social stigma, implying isolation, being on the outside. This perceived sense of aloneness seems to imply that being by one’s self is not volitional, or a choice we make, but rather an imposed state where a person is not socially engaged in the way that is somehow expected. Even further, it may imply that there is something actually wrong or defective with a person who remains alone.

How to be alone and be mentally sound

Spending time alone with yourself increases productivity
How quickly do you get a job done when you have family and friends chatting away? Your goal may be to complete things around the house, run errands, finish a school assignment, or meet a deadline for work. Even a ping from your phone when a chat or mail comes in can make you lose concentration on a task. The brain is naturally programmed to be more productive when there are little to no distractions. So, if you desire to be more productive, spend time alone.

Deepen your relationships
The strength of your relationships can speak bounds to how secure you feel when spending time alone. A lack of depth and connection can make you feel less heard, understood, appreciated or secure. The quality of your connections goes well above the quantity.

Stop tolerating unhappy relationships
It is a cruel fact of life that people are so scared of loneliness that they often opt into a relationship with the wrong person. There is enormous pressure from peers, family and society in general to get married or coupled. When this happens, people start making wrong decisions, getting involved with unsuitable partners because of the fear of being alone or lonesome; accepting inappropriate behavior just because of loneliness; seeking a temporary fix.

Spend some time with nature
There’s nothing quite as soothing as bonding with nature. You can simply spend time in a garden, where you can watch the flowers bloom with your favorite book in hand. Or you can listen to the chirping of the birds, lie under the skies, spend cuddle time with your companion animals, nurture indoor plants, and watch the shapes of the clouds and the brightness of the stars, and fall in love with yourself all over again.

Ease into the pleasure of relaxation
The moment you go for a massage, treat yourself to a bubble bath with wine in hand, order your favorite meal, or stay home to watch Netflix with home made popcorn. These are pleasures that are you, with you. Date nights with yourself have to be prioritized every week.

Step out alone
Perhaps you thought that to learn to be alone means camping at home and shutting the world out. However, that’s not the case. You can indeed have beautiful time with yourself by going out to town to do activities like reading outdoors, grabbing a coffee, having an appetizer and drink at a bar, and going to the seaside where you can feel the wind on your face, watch the sea waves come and go, or just gather your thoughts.

Be weird
Adulting does not stop you from playing your favorite song at home and dancing to it in your underwear, joking with friends and family, lor bingeing on your favorite ice-cream or meal. Nothing stops you from doing crazy activities like sky diving, traveling alone, we’re talking to people you don’t know – that will send some adrenaline shooting through your body.

Carve out ‘You’ Time
Experiment by setting a timer for 5 minutes. That is all.

Five minutes with no:

Get outdoors
Fifty minutes or more a week spent in nature can improve symptoms of depression and lower blood pressure.

Minimize conflict
Reducing sources of daily conflict or arguments will help you feel less alone. Your peace of mind is more important than winning a point, on social media, or IRL.

13 Ways to Fight Loneliness

A client recently said to me- loneliness is like being underwater while everyone around you is breathing. You can feel lonely by yourself or in a group. Loneliness is usually temporary, but it feels like forever when you are in the middle of it.

Acknowledge how you feel
You’re not alone in feeling alone. Loneliness is a common experience for most people at some time in their lives. The first step in combating loneliness, as in all challenges, is to acknowledge your feelings.

Talk to strangers
A growing body of research suggests that even seemingly trivial interactions with stranger, like chatting with a barista or server, may be able to keep loneliness at bay by helping us feel more socially connected. So reach out to other human beings to say hello, or ask them how they are. These small acts can make a big difference and help you reduce feelings of loneliness.

Join a community of practice
Finding or creating a community of practice is a great way to not only combat loneliness, but also continue to grow professionally and personally. Peer-to-peer learning is so powerful. In Buddhist thought, your Sangha, or like-minded community, helps you stay focused and on track with personal and spiritual goals.

Seek out an accountability partner
One way to manage loneliness is to seek out an accountability partners so that you can meet, talk regularly, share your goals and hold each other accountable for achieving results- personal, professional, or fitness and health. One colleague goes over the wins and losses of the week every Friday with an accountability buddy. Discussing Ws and Ls can be a  powerful connection and motivator.

Volunteer remotely or in real life
Working on an important problem with others can help you decrease loneliness. Volunteering for a cause or activity that is meaningful to you also puts you in touch with others who share your values and interests.

Set aside one hour per week to learn something new
Taking an online course or training often includes a social component of discussion and interaction. Learning something new or obtaining a certification makes us feel like we are part of a like-minded community.

Read a new book
Books are a great companion. You can immerse yourself in whatever format you prefer, digital, audio, or print, and you are transported to something that interests or intrigues you.

Take care of something
Putting energy towards taking care of something will help alleviate feelings of loneliness. Be that a pet or a plant, the responsibility of maintaining life is inspiring and motivating. Companion animals are also great emotional comforters and cuddle buddies.

Get extra hours of sleep
Getting enough sleep is very beneficial to your health, so spend some down time resting.

Take on art projects
Whether you like to paint, sculpt, draw, compose, write, or color, do things that allow you to be creative. Lots of adults tell me they can’t express their creativity at work. Art is a very positive outlet, and finding a craft that you love can lead you to a whole community of others who also enjoys it.

Work on your personal spirituality
Regardless of what religion you practice, alone time is a great opportunity to work on your spirituality. That looks different for everyone. If you don’t practice a religion but want to get in touch with yourself, it’s the perfect time for self-discovery and growth.

Try new recipes
Cooking a nourishing meal or even doing meal prep for the work weekis a healthy way of giving a gift to yourself.

Call your loved ones
Try to call or FaceTime at least one close friend or family member every day, and text others regularly. That sense of daily connection can keep loneliness at bay,  even if you are home by yourself.

For more tips see Eight Tips to Fight Loneliness During Holidays.

Teens and Their Dogs

Pets and teenagers, a natural connection. Having a companion animal has been shown to have significant mental health benefits for teenagers, especially girls, who often identify their dog or cat as their primary confidante.

Some of the research:

– Pets reduce loneliness
A 2018 study, published in the PNAS Journal, showed that pets reduced adolescent loneliness and social isolation, and helped kids feel they had a friend, especially if they lived in a city.  In the study, teens told dogs their secrets, talked to them, and cuddled with them.

-Pets provide emotional intimacy
A pet helps tweens and teens build empathy, particularly if the pet is hungry, sick, scared of thunderstorms or fireworks, or injured. Having a cat or dog to come home to, cuddle with, cry on, and play with provides teens with unconditional love and a safe space for emotional intimacy, particularly during the chaotic tween and teen years. In fact, one 2018 study in the Journal of Applied Development Psychology reported that children often feel closer to pets than their own siblings.

-Pets increase health and wellness
A 2017 study in the Journal of Pediatric Nursing reported that just a 10 minute visit with a pet reduced the stress hormone cortisol in teenagers. Imagine then, how having a pet around all the time affects longterm health.
The study showed that when you are in the presence of a pet you feel bonded and attached to, blood pressure decreases and respiration becomes more steady.

-Pets provide the benefits of physical touch
In 2012, the journal Frontiers of Psychology linked petting animals to the release of oxytocin in humans. This release reduces stress and increases feelings of well-being for pet owners.  Petting animals also reduces cortisol levels, the stress hormone.

-For long term social and emotional benefits
A 2019 study in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology observed that girls had a stronger response to having a pet, and may need the pet even more than boys during their turbulent teen years.

Home alone, or a socially distanced holiday that is meaningful

Loneliness can peak over the holidays, and especially so if you are feeling isolated from friends and family. But there ARE some things that you can do that help create a time that feels personally significant.

Even if you have no plans, make a plan. Waking up to a feeling that there is nothing to do can increase feelings of loneliness. I would even suggest working out a sample schedule.
8am: Wake up and meditate, stretch, breathe.
9 am: Go for a walk or spend some time in nature. Observe the beauty of the trees and plants in winter. You don’t usually have a chance to revel in the luxury of observation.
10 am: Cook a scrumptious breakfast. Make a frittata, Crab Benedict, shrimp etoufee, something you would not normally make for yourself. You can spoil yourself, it’s not just something you need to make for others.
11-100pm: FaceTime or call loved ones. 
1pm: Watch a movie in bed or read a great book, wearing pajamas
3 pm: Take a nap, no more than an hour, you don’t want to sleep the day away and later feel like you did nothing special.
4 pm: Start to prep dinner
5 pm: Have a good cry or journal; it’s ok to let it out.
6 pm: Open a really nice bottle of red wine etc.
7 pm: Eat dinner. Savor.
9 pm: Take a bubble bath; listen to soothing podcasts or audiobooks.
10 pm: Slather on your most decadent lotion, wrap yourself in your softest blanket, hug yourself. See my article on the power of the self hug.

You Do You
This is the best day possible that you can fully treat yourself to doing anything and everything just for you. Have a spa day at home, listen to your favorite music, spend time reading, reflecting, relaxing.

Decorate Your Space For The Holidays Anyway
A festive atmosphere goes a long way, even if you’re alone.
Get festive-smelling candles to fill the house with the scent of whatever you associate with the holidays. Our olfactory senses are most tied to memory, so candles can really help wrap you in the joy of past gatherings.

Reach Out
A lot of people are going to be on lock down this holiday so be proactive in reaching out to friend’s to see what their plans are. You may not be the only one feeling lonely.

No Pedestals Required
Stop putting “the holidays” up on some sort of pedestal like they’re supposed to be this amazingly perfect, beautiful time of the year. Yes, the holidays are a wonderful time to connect with friends and family but that doesn’t mean they HAVE to be just about that. There’s this idea that the holidays are supposed to be perfect. Try not to mythicize it all.

Plan A Virtual Get Together With A Friend Or Two
Watch a movie together while distanced; eat a meal together; have cocktails together while listening to some great music together. You can take turns picking songs.

If you can, try to find a soup kitchen or charitable organization that is accepting volunteers. This will take some proactive advanced planning due to Covid restrictions but the work will be worth it. Many organizations and shelters are very grateful for people who put together packages of goods to drop off, or even give out at the site.

Being single and mental health

Some fascinating recent research has been focusing on the social life of singles. Single individuals tend to have a lower desire for a romantic relationship when they are more socially satisfied, engage in a variety of activities and interests, and place their friends higher in their life priorities, according to new research published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. The results show that singles with low relationship desire are more social and derive greater support from their friends. These findings also defy common negative perceptions of singles with low relationship desire as having social difficulties or loneliness. 

A rigorous recent study, from the German Panel Analysis of Intimate Relationships and Family Dynamics (Pairfam), link below, a longitudinal survey of more than 12,000 individuals and their partners, parents, and children assessed how satisfied the participants were with their friends and level of social contact, and the relative importance of friends in their life. After controlling for factors such as age, health, education, employment, income, and number of children, researchers found that the importance of friends and social satisfaction were correlated with the degree of choosing singlehood.

The study found that people who desire romantic relationships at higher levels tend to assign their friends lower importance and are less satisfied with their social lives. And vice versa, singles with less relationship desire think their friends are more important and are also more satisfied with their social lives. The study also found that single people, especially those who have been single for a long time, have more extensive social networks than do their married peers, which can help buffer singles against feelings of loneliness.

Being single and being lonely are not commensurate.

(Research source: How do relationship desire and sociability relate to each other among singles? Longitudinal analysis of the Pairfam survey“, Journal of Social and Personal relationships, June 24, 2020).

Eight tips to fight loneliness during holidays

Tis the season when we presumably spend our days sipping hot cocoa, eating delicious food, gifting, and doing all sorts of holiday fun-ness with our loved ones, these days, virtually. It’s the jolliest time of year. At least, that’s the lovely picture we’re all marketed for the holidays. The unfortunate reality is this sentimental holiday scenario is anything but the norm.

For many people, this time of year can be a painful reminder of the things they’re not surrounded by. Loneliness happens. And the painful feeling may grow, until you’re convinced you’re destined to be a lonely hermit whom no one wants to be around.

Part of that reason is simply because of our cultural expectations around what the holidays SHOULD be like. When we set our expectations to be one thing, and the reality is something different, we can see it as less than.

Think, for instance, about all of those holiday Hallmark family films that focus on the heartwarming ~feels~ that come from quality time with the fam.

The reality is, though, your IRL or virtual version could easily not match what you see on the screen or with what your neighbors with their beautiful lights and decorations might be experiencing. Coping with the loneliness and holiday blues can be challenging.

Mental health tips:

Recognize how much stress you might be under
Since the holiday season is short and goes quickly it creates a sense of urgency and overwhelm, making you feel like there’s so much to do and so little time to get everything done. Expectation is also a huge cause of stress during the holidays. Everything from holiday decorating to shopping and gift giving come with expectations that are most often unrealistic which causes you to stress about measuring up to those expectations whether they are your own or ones held by family and friends. When people get stressed or feel overwhelmed they can begin to feel alone in their struggles.

Comparison is the thief of joy
People can feel less than, especially when they see everyone else seemingly ‘happy’ and having everything under control. Social media can be a huge culprit of making it seem that everyone else has it all together except you with those happy/perfect pics. Even though social media is for “connecting” with others it can actually do the opposite and make you feel less connected and more alone especially when you compare your life to those you see. Try limiting time on social media.

Don’t isolate yourself, no matter how tempting
When people feel lonely, sad or are struggling they may tend to isolate themselves or feel unmotivated to reach out or interact with others. They may also feel unworthy of someone’s time and that they would burden or inconvenience others by asking them to participate in an activity or by sharing their feelings. They get caught up in their low self-esteem and negative thoughts, and choose to isolate instead of virtually socialize or reach out. The best way to stop and change negative thoughts is by choosing to see them for what they are-as mental distortions, rooted in fear, self-doubt and low self-esteem. Their purpose is to keep us from pursuing relationships and opportunities.

Self compassion
Please ask yourself if this is a kind thought you are telling yourself. Flip the negative self statement to a positive thought, for example if you are struggling with worth and feelings of deserving ask yourself “Who am I not to deserve this?” Start repeating “I am worthy” multiple times throughout the day and you will begin to believe it and act from a place of feeling worthy and deserving. The more you practice positive thinking, the more empowered and less lonely you will feel. I actually have my patients write this down on index cards and carry it around to look at throughout the day. 

Process and be in your feelings
It’s okay to feel sad and to let yourself feel lonely. Everyone has bouts of loneliness at times and often it’s because family may be far away or maybe right now you don’t have a significant other or kids. Spend some time fully feeling your feelings until they dissipate. You can do this by practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness teaches you how to be aware of your feelings, to feel them in your body and to allow and accept them without creating a narrative around them. It is OK to cry or feel an intensity of emotions, and in accepting and inviting these feelings to be present they dissipate and more calm and peace prevails.

Engage in the practice of opposite action/emotion
Practice opposite emotion and action, derived from Buddhism, to change your mood by engaging in behavior that is opposite to what your current emotion is pulling from you. For example, if you are angry and feel yourself tensing up, then try to open your posture and uncross your arms. Stretch your body for release. Similarly, if you are feeling sad and lonely and want to withdraw, then make a point to reach out to friends or watch a funny or well loved movie to help mitigate sadness.

The theory behind the skill I teach in my clinical practice to patients that I call OPPOSITE EMOTION is that every emotion is accompanied by an urge to engage in certain behaviors and these behaviors perpetuate the emotion. For example, the most common action urge for anxiety is avoidance. The more you avoid something you fear, the more intense your anxiety will become, and so approaching what you fear will help reduce anxiety both because you learn the situation is okay and because you aren’t continuing to reinforce your fear by avoiding the situation. It is important to note that the goal is not to push away your emotion or suppress it, but rather to work on cultivating another emotion.

Community service and volunteering
Use your energy and resources on behalf of people who need your help. Volunteer to tutor students, as many are struggling with virtual learning; help at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen, make food for an elderly neighbor, or volunteer at an animal shelter.

Appreciate what you have
Send cards or a personal note to everyone who means a lot to you. Thanksgiving is about showing gratitude. Make your holidays a spiritual growth time, such as creating a personal ritual, prayer, meditation, or virtual gathering with close friends. I have several friends who have a personal altar at home, and engage in prayer to their ancestors and loved ones who are not present. Find something for you that is meaningful. 

Embolden Psychology

Embolden offers the ADOS-2, the gold standard assessment for kids on the spectrum.

Combined with psychoeducational testing, it helps provide comprehensive information and recommendations to help children and teens six and up.

Thank you for contacting us.