My husband took a course recently on happiness. When he shared some of the research he was reading with me, I was stunned.
I think we can all agree that loneliness is a bad thing. No one likes to feel cut off or isolated from others. And days like today, Valentine’s Day, can make those feelings even stronger if you’re single, or have lost a spouse.
But it turns out loneliness and isolation don’t just make you feel bad, they can kill too.
Research has proven it. And real life stories… perhaps even the story of someone you know… illustrate it. In fact, scientists say loneliness is likely a bigger threat to our health than smoking or being very overweight.
Loneliness hurts and kills
It’s a major problem, and not just a psychological one.
According to a study by AARP, there are around 42.6 million U.S. adults over 45 are battling chronic loneliness. A full 35 percent of the folks they surveyed reported feeling lonely.
And all that loneliness is taking a toll on our health. Folks who felt isolated and alone were more than twice as likely to rate their health as poor in the study.
But it gets worse.
When researchers at Brigham Young University took a closer look at the issue of loneliness, they uncovered a startling fact. Their meta-analysis revealed being lonely, social isolation, or living alone can increase your risk of death by a stunning 29 percent on average.
Some studies they looked at found that risk could soar as high as 60 percent!
On the flip side, however, researchers say greater social connection sends our risk of early death plummeting. With the social butterflies among us slashing their risk by half.
Cure loneliness with THREE words
Which brings us to those three little words that could save your life.
“Let’s do coffee.”
The cure for loneliness, and all the risks that come with it including early death, is to reach out and make connections with others. And something as simple as a coffee date with an old friend (or a new one) can break through the isolation trap you’ve been stuck in lately.
It could feel a little uncomfortable at first. After all your social skills might be a bit rusty. But reminding yourself that being social is just as good for your friend’s health too can help.
3 connection suggestions to beat loneliness
Make that coffee date a regular routine, but don’t stop there. Find other social outlets too.
Need some inspiration? Following are three great ways to end your social isolation and start connecting with other folks again.
1. Find a local book club:
If you enjoy reading, book clubs are a great way to meet folks and stay connected. Not only will they get you out of the house, because you have a set topic to talk about conversations are easy. None of that awkward “just met” pressure.
To find a book club try calling your local library, or checking their bulletin board. If that doesn’t work out meetup.com or my-bookclub.com are two good resources for finding groups in your area. You can even set up a book club of your own if you don’t spot one you want to join.
2. Join a church:
Even if you haven’t gone to church since you were a kid finding a local church to join could help with loneliness in two ways.
First, of course, is the social interaction. Between Sunday services, Thursday night spaghetti dinners and charity bake sales your calendar will soon be overflowing with events.
But second a church family will also be there for you should you find you need a little extra support sometimes.
Need a ride to the doctor? Pull out the church directory. Chances are you’ll find a church friend who’s available to help. Stuck in bed sick? Someone from church will likely stop by to check on you and bring you some chicken soup.
3. Find a local class or workshop:
Many colleges offer low cost or free courses that anyone in the community can attend. And if you’re a senior, chances are you can find a number of free options in your area to choose from.
Check with your local community college as well as any private universities in the area. Ask if they have a tuition waiver program for seniors. Over half of accredited educational institutions do. In addition, many colleges allow auditing of classes. Which means you can attend all the lectures without having to do homework or take exams.
Or if you’re more of a crafty type check with your local craft and hardware stores. Many offer free workshops from scrapbooking to building a birdhouse. You just pay for any materials needed.
Don’t let loneliness or social isolation ruin your life, or end it early. Give yourself a second lease on life by becoming the social butterfly I know you can be. And don’t forgot the power of those three little words, “Let’s do coffee,” to get your new life started.