The U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, released an advisory on the epidemic of loneliness in the United States, which found that a lack of connection with others can increase the risk of premature death at a rate comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. During the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person social activity halted, increasing overall instances of loneliness that are still being felt today.
In older adults, loneliness is associated with a 50% increased risk of developing dementia and a 30% increased risk of incident coronary artery disease or stroke, according to a recent study in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.
Paul Giger, MD, the Director of Behavioral Health for Providence Health Plan (PHP), says there are many things we can do to address feelings of loneliness in ourselves. "It can be difficult for people to talk about feelings of loneliness or even to know what to do with these feelings," he says.
Here are some practices you can put into place this year to deal with feelings of loneliness:
Explore a new hobby: There are countless benefits to learning new things and participating in activities, including the possibility of meeting other people. "Stepping outside your comfort zone by trying new activities or hobbies can introduce you to a diverse range of people," Giger says. He recommends attending classes, workshops, or events that capture your interest, and it can lead you to opportunities to connect with people who share those interests.
Volunteer Your Time: Channeling your energy into helping others not only makes a positive impact on the community but also provides a sense of fulfillment. "Volunteering can help you meet new people while fostering connections based on shared values and a collective goal," Giger says. Volunteering provides similar benefits to taking a class or joining a club, but it adds to the practice of altruism and can help others feel less lonely.
Reach out to a mental health provider: If loneliness becomes overwhelming, Giger says seeking the guidance of a mental health professional can be instrumental. "Therapy offers a safe space to explore the root causes of loneliness and develop coping strategies for navigating challenging emotions," he says. Programs like the Behavioral Health Concierge at PHP offer convenient benefits for members and their families coping with life stressors, mental health, and addiction issues, including a platform to easily schedule appointments for video and in-person behavioral health visits with a dedicated network of high-quality providers. If your health plan offers this type of care, consider enrolling.
If you want to volunteer but need help figuring out where to start, check out some of PHP's recent community partners.
Dealing with loneliness — and behavioral health care in general — doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all solution. To learn more about the behavioral health resources available through Providence Health Plan, check out the Behavioral Health resources page.
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