From the occasional pang of isolation to a persistent feeling that you’re completely alone in the world, loneliness isn’t something to be taken lightly. Some experts are even coveting it as the next big public health issue, and stressing that despite public perceptions, loneliness can be fatal.
Health experts warn that it’s now on par with obesity and substance abuse when it comes to the danger factor, with a study published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science revealing that the subjective feeling of loneliness increases the risk of death by 26%.
“This is something that we need to take seriously for our health,” comments Brigham Young University researcher Julianne Holt-Lunstad, one of the co-authors of the study. “This should become a public-health issue.”
New Zealand’s loneliness endemic
We may be blessed with gorgeous scenery, but in New Zealand that doesn’t outweigh the fact that one in three adults feel lonely to some degree during the course of a month. Of these, an alarming 0.7% admit to feeling lonely all of the time, with a further 3% citing ‘most of the time’ and 12% ‘some of the time’ as answers.
So, the question is – what can people do to beat loneliness? Unlike depression and other mental illnesses, loneliness has a silver lining in that’s it’s not necessarily linked to a chemical imbalance in the brain. This means that you can actively take steps to combat loneliness, without drugs or GPs. Here’s how:
1. Volunteer for a cause
Retirees and seniors can find themselves becoming lonely, purely because they’re lacking daily social interaction in their lives. Volunteering for a cause that’s close to your heart is a fantastic way to rebuild the camaraderie that comes with a daily job, and donate your time to something meaningful in the process.
2. Join a social club
We love the work being done by British social initiative, HenPower. The story is incredible, with a genuinely successful scheme being borne from one man’s desire to feed his hens. Read the backstory, we promise you’ll love it! While New Zealand doesn’t have an equivalent just yet, it’s an inspiring example of how something as simple as human interaction and a sense of purpose can make an enormous difference to a person’s life.
3. Get online
Thanks to new technologies, the world is more connected than ever. But unless you know how to leverage these technologies, you won’t reap the benefits. From messaging a friend down the street to chatting with family members in another country, platforms like Skype and Facebook are definitely worth mastering. There’s some great guides online, and local librarians are more than happy to help.
4. Get a pet
Research has shown time and time again that canine companionship can help to beat loneliness. They’re not called man’s best friend without reason, with studies revealing that highly attached pet owners with low levels of human social support are less prone to suffering from loneliness and depression. Remember, a pet is a BIG responsibility and shouldn’t be taken lightly so be sure to give your furry friend a lot of thought before making a commitment.
5. Learn to love Meetup
Designed to help people do what they love, Meetup is an amazing platform that caters to pretty much every interest on the planet. From hiking, kayaking and golf to reading, knitting and cocktails, there’s literally a Meetup for everything. And if you can’t find a group that fits your needs, you can create one!
6. Sing your heart out
Amazingly, scientific evidence indicates that there are a host of physical and psychological benefits that go hand in hand with singing in a choir. Even if you’re tone deaf, New Zealand is home to some wonderfully welcoming choirs that simply exist to give people a chance to sing their hearts out. So get on Google, find a group in your local area and start learning your words!
7. Get lost in a good book
If you’re not quite ready to explore new social experiences, there are also candid benefits associated with getting lost in a good book. Literature has the power to create a sense of shared experience, which can help to combat feelings of loneliness. If you really want to amplify your approach, join a local or online book club.
It can be hard to pull yourself out of a loneliness rut, especially if depression is also factor. While we’re not hailing these as definitive cures, they can be incredibly helpful when it comes to beating loneliness, on your own terms. If you need to talk to a specialist you absolutely should. But in the meantime, you’ve got nothing to lose by putting yourself out there and giving some of these ideas a go!