Everyone feels left out occasionally — but as we age, we tend to retire or develop chronic conditions that may limit our mobility. The end result? Our social lives can slow down, leading to more serious feelings of loneliness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Loneliness is often linked to depression and sadness, says Norman Abeles, a professor emeritus of psychology at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan. And the National Institutes of Aging notes that loneliness is also associated with inflammation and high blood pressure.
If you believe that you may be feeling lonely (or that those feelings are interfering with your health), call your doctor or a trusted friend or relative. Here are a few other ways to stay connected with others.
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1. Join a walking group
Combining social and physical activities can help ward off loneliness and boost your mood. According to the CDC, staying active can reduce your risk of depression and help you sleep better at night.
"Do some walking every day, or even go to the gym once in a while," says Abeles, who also notes that feeling lethargic or unmotivated to exercise can also be a signal that you might be depressed.
2. Hang out with your grandkids
It's a fact of life that as we age, we can lose family members and friends to illnesses like cancer and heart disease. That's why Abeles tells people to make friends with people who are younger them. "Go out to lunch with your grandkids or your work colleagues or have them over for supper," he says.
After all, you're only as old as you feel.
3. Find a hobby
You're probably looking forward to retiring — after all, you've earned it — but some people enjoy those years more than others. "For some older adults, retirement is a problem because it cuts off day-to-day contacts with others," says Abeles. "Sometimes the retiree feels lost and bewildered, especially if there's been no planning."
Think about how you might like to spend your free time, or ask others for their advice, says Abeles. Some people find fulfillment by volunteering, traveling, or going back to school and continuing their education.
4. Call someone
Scrolling through Facebook doesn't always substitute for a meaningful conversation. "It's not the quantity of your relationships that's important, but the quality," says Abeles. Using the Internet is a good way to stay connected to the outside world — which is especially important for older adults who might be managing chronic conditions that keep them indoors — but it doesn't always allow you to build deep connections with other people, he explains.
If you're no longer as mobile as you once were, try to stay in touch with people as best you can by phoning them or inviting them over to your house. "If you're physically ill, people initially come to see you because they're wondering how you're doing," says Abeles. "But if you're chronically ill or house-bound, after a while, people assume that your family will look after you and can [drop off]."
Make an effort to reach out to others, says Abeles. "You can't expect other people to always contact you."
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