Retirement is a complex and bittersweet milestone.
This change is met by many new opportunities and time to develop personal interests. However, when the hustle and bustle of the rest of the world carries on, it’s very common for feelings of loneliness to develop. Even with a supportive network of family and friends, the solitude that accompanies some later in life can be difficult to bare.
This problem seems to be so quietly ignored that people who find themselves in this position find it difficult to seek help.
There is a lot of emphasis placed on physical health, finances, and mobility for successful post-retirement wellness. But one of the the most universally felt conditions, loneliness, slips under the radar. Looking at the statistics, it is notably important that we bring awareness in how to confront these feelings of isolation:
- A study posted by US National Library of Medicine revealed that there was a significant correlation between feelings of loneliness and depression, however little to no correlation between loneliness and feelings of sociability. So while spending time with others is potentially helpful, the roots of loneliness go deeper than a lack of social engagement.
- The same study also suggested that loneliness felt in the senior community stemmed from a lack of self-esteem and overall life satisfaction. Health problems, personal losses, and insufficient intellectual stimulation were marked as factors that were heavily influential.
- A different study concluded that loneliness is often a consequence of cognitive decline. When the brain begins to function less efficiently, it becomes harder to regulate emotions and maintain strong bonds with others.
- The research also showed that feelings loneliness and depression can actually be contagious. So when people in the senior community are living in close quarters like in retirement homes, negativity and pessimistic feelings can spread quickly.
Though there isn’t a quick fix for singular cure for feelings of loneliness, there are some positive steps one can take to help alleviate the power of it:
Adopt an animal.
Bringing a new pet into the household is a big responsibility, but it’s a great opportunity for those who are still living independently. There is a huge amount of animals waiting to be adopted, especially older ones. A study by Georgia State proved that interacting with animals reduced feelings of loneliness and anxiety. If loneliness is contagious, then playfulness must be as well.
Work on cognitive development.
A lack of enjoyment in life can result in boredom, listlessness, and lethargy. By picking up new mental skills, you not only revitalize your mind, but your self-esteem as well. Learning a new language has been proven to improve memory, a skill that needs to be exercised as you age.
Use it as a tool for reflection.
Nostalgia can be intense, but it is a powerful teacher. By allowing yourself to look back on cherished memories, you reconnect with pieces of yourself you might have grown out of touch with. An article on the New York Times featured a study that showed that feelings of nostalgia can actually increase feelings of optimism about the future.
Take a break from your ordinary routine.
Most older folks adopt a routine for the sake of consistency and familiarity. A routine can be a source of deep comfort, but it can also perpetuate feelings of negativity. A strict routine makes it hard to establish new thought patterns. Try incorporating simple adjustments in your day to invite spontaneity and enjoyment in your life. Take a walk at a different time of day than usual. Try a new food (trust me, there’s a lot of weird stuff out there). Give a new genre of literature a shot. By keeping your mind open, you are inviting new possibilities to connect with the world.
We experience loneliness at all stages of life. For those in the senior community, it can be especially difficult to break away from. By establishing a sense of awareness, we are creating an environment that will benefit everyone in the long run. If you are coping with loneliness, allow yourself to come to the gentle awareness that it is deeply normal, and part of the human experience. Allow yourself to try new things, to connect in ways you haven’t before.
And if you are not currently experiencing those feelings, extend yourself to people who are. It will make a bigger impact than you might think.