A while back, I read that the British Prime Minister had appointed a minister for loneliness to try to reverse the trend in that country. But loneliness is not only prevalent in Britain. Here in the United States where most young people move out of their parents’ home by the age of eighteen, parents soon find themselves with an “empty nest.” Then a few years later, one partner dies, and the other is left all alone. He/she may not see the children or grand-children except at Christmas or Thanksgiving.
Loneliness affects not only the elderly, but people across the age spectrum. One AARP source says that loneliness has increased by 5 million among people age 45 and over.
The dangers of loneliness
A former US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy says loneliness can be worse for you than smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Loneliness leads to depression and anxiety and increases your risk for cardiovascular disease, dementia, and death, say the experts. I’m not surprised at these findings, but this one really bowled me over: An English longitudinal study of 264 participants showed that loneliness was a significant predictor of incident type 2 diabetes, independent of age, sex, ethnicity, wealth, smoking status, alcohol consumption, BMI, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
Loneliness and social media
One report notes an increase in the number of people who complained of loneliness at the same time that social media became popular, but they don’t know yet what is cause and what is effect. While technology proved invaluable during the pandemic— it helped us stay in touch in ways that would not otherwise be possible— we should not use it as a tool to relieve loneliness. Nothing can replace face-to-face contact, a touch, or a hug.
Ways to fight loneliness
- Call an old friend
- Join a walking club or some other group that interests you
- Volunteer in your community
- Visit friends and family
- Get involved in your church
Loneliness affects people of all ages and stages in life. It is a dangerous epidemic that can impair your mental as well as physical health. Spending a lot of time in front of your computer or with your cellphone does not relieve social isolation. Follow the tips above to relieve or prevent yourself becoming socially isolated. Your life may depend on it.