Social isolation and disconnection contribute to depression. If you go online in search of the latest health news, one trend you’re sure to spot is loneliness and its detrimental effects often compared to smoking.
In the Facebook group for elder orphans, older adults living alone with little help frequently discuss how loneliness and isolation affects their well-being. The members share stories of feeling lonely, emotional hardships, and also the flip side of adversity, like traveling the world, making solo trips via a car, retiring to another country, finding a more challenging job, while others go back to school for a second or third degree. It’s interesting to read them all and observe how some move out of tough circumstances.
There are big differences between thriving in retirement and struggling to get by. The people who thrive are active, resourceful, and curious. Growing older isn’t a road block, but instead a new phase of advancement and here’s what they do differently:
Volunteer locally with organizations that feed their soul
Take up a new hobby for the fun of it
Learn a new skill that adds value
Travel and take day trips
Step beyond your comfort zone and meet people of different cultures
Grow a vegetable or flower garden
Find a part-time job to get out of the house
Make new friends to build a support team
Visit the local library, senior center or community college and sign up for a class
Help a neighbor next door or do a project together
Take cooking classes
Years ago when feeling isolated and alone, a dear friend suggested to connect with strangers when out and about in the community. She gave me simple instructions to follow when checking out at the grocery market:
1. Look the cashier in the eye, and say, “thank you.”
2. Ask them, “how is your day?”
3. When done with checking out, say, “have a nice day.”
In the beginning, the outreach felt uncomfortable, but over time, it felt like the normal thing to do. Now, there’s never a stranger in my small world. Try it and give it some time. After awhile, it will be your normal.
Here are other ways to connect:
Attend meetings and activities at senior centers, do hobbies, find local Meetup groups for writing, dancing, cooking, walking, and tech classes. Libraries are another wonderful resource to build friendships.
If you’re open to meeting new people and I hope you are, then pick up the phone or go to the web to locate the organizations online. If you stay at it and make a reasonable effort, I bet you’ll wind up having a lot of fun and adventure with new friends.
Carol Marak is an aging advocate, syndicated columnist and editor at Seniorcare.com. She earned the Fundamentals of Gerontology Certificate from UC Davis, School of Gerontology.