Coping with loneliness: Steps you can take to improve your life

Shirleen Allicot Image
Friday, June 14, 2024
Coping with loneliness: Steps you can take
Shirleen Allicot speaks on loneliness awareness and ways to cope.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- It's a feeling that we've all felt at some point in our lives.

"Loneliness is a subjective feeling that the connections that we need in our life are greater than the connections we actually have," Murthy said.

It's a feeling that has become so common that U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy has declared loneliness an epidemic. Half of all adults have felt it over the past few years.

"This is not just a problem with the elderly or the young, this is affecting all age groups," he said.

Loneliness was exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic - a time when we were socially isolated, leaving us cut off from friends, family, and loved ones.

While loneliness has been linked with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide, research shows loneliness can have devastating effects on your physical health as well.

"This is one of the surprising things about loneliness and isolation is that it is both impactful to your physical and mental health," Murthy said. "It increases your risk of heart disease, of dementia, of stroke, of premature death. It actually has been associated with slower or poor wound healing. I mean the health effects go on and on."

In fact, Dr. Murthy says the health impact of loneliness is equivalent to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.

But he says it's important to remember, you are not alone.

"This is not evidence of you being broken or deficient in some way. We all struggle with this," he said.

So what can you do if you're struggling with loneliness?

The CDC offers some tips:

START A CONVERSATION

"It can start with small steps that you take. For example, spending 15 minutes a day to reach out to someone, just to check on them to see how they're doing," Murthy said.

CONNECT WITH OTHERS ON SOCIAL MEDIA

Use your time online to interact rather than just scrolling through posts.

OFFER A HELPING HAND

"Whenever you have an opportunity to help someone else; it can be a small act of giving someone a hand when they spill their coffee or when they drop their papers; it could be noticing that your neighbor is having a hard time with raking the leaves in their yard. Whatever it may be, these small acts of helping other people, they actually help us feel more connected as well," he said.

BE KIND TO YOURSELF

Take time to read, listen to music, exercise, and acknowledge your successes.

GET HELP FROM A PROFESSIONAL

Talk to a health care provider about how you're feeling.

If you are experiencing suicidal, substance use or other mental health crises please call or text the new three digit code at 988. You will reach a trained crisis counselor for free, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also go to 988lifeline.org.

RELATED: More information about loneliness and social isolation and how to help promote social connection