Winter is here, and that means you’re probably spending more time indoors. Although you may not feel as confined as you did during the early part of the COVID pandemic, you may not be leaving the house as much because you’ve discovered the benefits of working, learning, and shopping from home. Unfortunately, this type of behavior can lead to loneliness and isolation. And that can have a negative impact on your mental health.
If you’re struggling to connect with others, consider the following tips:
- Check in with family and friends. Don’t let the loneliness you feel trick you into thinking that people don’t care about you. Instead of waiting for your loved ones to reach out to you, make the first move. It’s okay to start small. Simply make a phone call, send a card, or schedule a time to meet for coffee. You might be surprised to discover they need you as much as you need them.
- Get involved with your community. You can find opportunities for social interaction in your own community. Look for ways to connect with others over shared interests, whether it’s a good book or a game of pickleball. Start with your local parks and recreation department, or join a fitness club nearby. Check with your library for book clubs that are accepting new members. And remember that helping others is another great way to boost your mental health, so start searching for volunteer opportunities in your area, from reading to kids at your local elementary school to helping at a nearby food bank.
- Get to know your coworkers better. Whether you work from home, in an office, or a combination of both, you probably already have a lot in common with your work colleagues. This camaraderie is a natural offshoot of working on a project together or joining forces to solve a problem. Consider making those relationships more meaningful by getting to know them on a more personal level. Start with having lunch together, or meet for a drink after work. You might even arrange to get your kids together for a play date.
- Find ways to enjoy the time you spend alone. Even as you try to socialize more, you’ll still be left with some alone time. Remember that it can be enjoyable and relaxing if you fill it with the right activities. Trade in some screen time for a favorite hobby, such as painting, reading, or playing a musical instrument, or look for outdoor activities that get you out of the house even when the weather is chilly.
The impact of social media and technology
If you struggle with social isolation, the solution isn’t as simple as increasing your connections on social media platforms or adopting more forms of technology. That’s not to say social media doesn’t have its benefits. It allows you to connect with family and friends from anywhere at any time. And, of course, there are many ways to socialize with others from the comfort of your home, such as talking virtually, playing video games, or watching a movie.
But virtual interactions should supplement—not replace—the higher quality interactions that come from spending time with others in person. Technology may bring you together, but it’s critical to nurture those relationships with face-to-face encounters.
Loneliness in vulnerable populations
Some individuals and populations are at a higher risk for chronic loneliness. If you’re an older adult, you may have functional limitations that confine you to your home, which could be even worse if you don’t have adequate family support. If you’re retired, the risk of feeling lonely and isolated could increase if you don’t feel like a productive member of society.
Keep in mind that although it may be difficult to ask for help, there are many resources available to you. Support groups and therapists can help you process your feelings and work toward a happier, more connected lifestyle. Seniors, in particular, can find support and assistance through your local Area Agencies on Aging (AAA), Eldercare Locator and the National Council on Aging.
Dr. David Lowenstein is a Columbus, Ohio-based psychologist with more than 35 years of experience. He conducts individual, family, and group therapy sessions in his German Village office and also via telehealth. Dr. Lowenstein is also available for expert forensic testimony, and for educational workshops and presentations. He is frequently called upon as an expert source for print, radio, and broadcast media. Contact Dr. Lowenstein at Lowenstein & Associates, 691 South Fifth Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43206, or call 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.