By Elliot B. Barsh, MD | Pediatrics
“Where are the people?” resumed the little prince at last. “It’s a little lonely in the desert…”
“It is lonely when you’re among people, too,” said the snake.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
According to the American Psychological Association’s recent findings, “loneliness and social isolation may represent a greater public health hazard than obesity… Their impact has been growing and will continue to grow.” This research, presented at the APA’s 125th Annual Convention, shows that loneliness can pose a host of health risks, including early mortality.
At CareMount Medical, we take findings like this seriously, so we decided to get some expert insight from Dr. Elliot Barsh, pediatrician and physician coach.
Here are his recommendations for shifting your experience when you’re feeling those lonely blues:
- Recognize the loneliness. This is the first step toward helping yourself. Remember that, if you find yourself in a lonely state, the loneliness is not you. It is a feeling that you are experiencing. This is hard for some of us to talk about, because we may feel ashamed. We may even feel like there is something wrong with us. (Hint: there isn’t.)
- Pick up the phone and call someone. Don’t wait for them to call you. Start the conversation with some casual chit-chat. Gradually, this will help you feel more comfortable. It will “melt the ice” that we all feel when stepping out of our box and starting to connect to another person. Getting comfortable with “small talk” can actually help build the courage to talk about other, more important things.
- When we are feeling lonely, we tend to walk with our head down or avoid eye contact. Instead, try changing your pose. Walk upright with your head held high and make eye contact with the people you pass. Even if you don’t feel like it, acknowledge them with a simple smile and a warm “hello.” It doesn’t matter if they respond. Believe it or not, just changing your posture can help your mood brighten.
- Get outside and spend time getting back in touch with everything around you. The natural world is out there waiting to connect with us. All we have to do is notice it.
If you have a friend or family member who is feeling lonely:
One of the best ways to help is to listen and provide acceptance for their experience. Your positive energy, time, and attention can give them hope that their situation could change. You can also show empathy by using affirmations like: “You are important to me even when you are feeling down.” Or: “I may not understand what you’re experiencing, but I’m here for you.” If you feel like your friend or family member is feeling particularly down, you might even ask them, “Would you like to go outside with me for a short walk?”
Providing this kind of companionship can break the isolation your loved one might feel caught in. It could also be a way to help them articulate the underlying reasons for their loneliness. When appropriate, sharing the aforementioned tips could help put things into a more balanced perspective as well. Down the line, you could encourage them to consider talking to a primary care physician or mental health professional too.