Feeling lonely and socially isolated can have a real impact on our health, and a recent study highlights just how serious this impact can be. The study, conducted by researchers at Guangzhou Medical University in China, found that both social isolation and loneliness can increase the risk of hospitalization or death from heart failure by 15-20%.
So, what’s the difference between social isolation and loneliness?
“Social isolation” refers to being objectively alone or having infrequent social connections, while “loneliness” is a painful feeling caused when someone’s actual level of social interaction is less than they would like it to be.
The study found that loneliness was a stronger psychological stressor than social isolation, as loneliness was more likely to affect people even if they were in relationships or interacting with others. The results highlight the need for effective tools to screen for social isolation and loneliness in routine clinical care and to provide more social support to those who need it.
It’s worth noting that social isolation and loneliness can be especially pronounced in people with low socioeconomic status. This is why it might be appropriate to incorporate specific interventions, like “social prescribing”, into healthcare.
Tips to reduce social isolation and loneliness:
- Connect with others: Reach out to friends, family, or neighbors for regular social interaction. Join clubs or groups centered around interests you have.
- Volunteer: Helping others can help you feel a sense of purpose and make new connections.
- Try technology: Social media, video conferencing, and instant messaging can help you stay connected with people even when you can’t be in the same place.
- Exercise: Physical activity can boost your mood and help you meet new people.
- Connect with nature: Spending time outside, even for a few minutes, can help you feel more relaxed and less isolated.
- Seek professional help: If you’re feeling lonely or isolated, consider talking to a therapist who can offer support and guidance.
- Practice gratitude: Focus on what you have and what you’re grateful for, rather than what you’re missing.
- Learn a new skill: Taking a class or learning a new hobby can give you a sense of accomplishment and help you meet new people.
So, what’s the take-away from all this? If you’re feeling lonely, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. And, if you’re not feeling lonely, it’s still worth checking in on yourself and your loved ones to see if they’re in need of some social support.