This is the season of family, of being together, going to events and enjoying our time with each other. It is also a time of early darkness, a time when people spend more time indoors and generally may have less contact with others. Loneliness is not just a seasonal problem but it seems to become more noticeable and perhaps harder to deal with during holidays.
What is loneliness?
The definition of loneliness “loneliness is being alone where you desire otherwise”. And a feeling of isolation from others regardless whether you may be physically isolated from others or not.
Loneliness is an emotional issue and circumstances such as, being a care giver, a recent bereavement, poor health, low income, belonging to a minority group, living alone, isolation, not feeling a part of a community, being far from family, can help escalate these feelings.
Who does it affect?
It can affect people across all ages and it is not just a problem of the elderly like many people think. “Psychology Today” reports that in a recent study it showed that the loneliest group of people was those under 30. It also showed that loneliness in people over 80 was mainly brought on by losing a spouse or partner and by the loss of physical abilities brought on by aging.
There also seems to be stigma attached to loneliness so that it makes it difficult to admit to being lonely in fear of being judged and found wanting in some way.
What are the consequences of loneliness?
It can lead to high blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol, and general feelings of being unwell, low energy, low self-esteem and mental illness. Over time it can become a chronic condition that can affect all aspects of a person’s life.
What can we do to help alleviate it?
We can be more aware of our neighbors and those around us.
We can become involved on a local level with charities and organizations that offer friendship and community involvement. Helping at senior centers, volunteering at local organizations such as the library, joining clubs, all can be ways of helping to foster feelings of involvement and well being. If we have elderly parents we can encourage them to take advantage of the services their areas provide.
We can encourage our children to engage in activities that interest them and encourage them to bond with others in school groups or after school activities. Maybe by teaching children that involvement feels good, we might be giving them the tools needed later in their lives to help deal with loneliness if it ever becomes a issue for them.
Charities and churches can link with community groups to foster programs or start awareness campaigns. The SPCA has great programs involving people to help care for the animals in their shelters. Caring for other animals and having pets has been shown to be soothing and to help focus attention on something outside of ourselves.
Above all we as individuals can help by simply being aware and extending kindness to others. By actually talking and having real contact with others, not through emails or texting, we can help make someone’s day brighter. We never know the difference one smile or a simple “hello” can make.
Submitted by Brenda Devauld, BCWI Director
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