What You Can Do About Loneliness

What You Can Do About Loneliness

“Solitude is not the same as loneliness. Solitude is a solitary boat floating in a sea of possible companions.”—Robert Fulghum

Carrie, a full-time caregiver to her ailing 70-year-old husband, felt lonely. She said:

“I’ve been in a dark hole for quite a while. Sometimes, I believe everyone around me would be better off if I were dead. My friends can no longer visit; my few remaining relatives don’t seem to care. I often feel dead inside.

     “I can’t help it. I know I sound selfish, but I’ve spent more than twenty years with caregiving duties for one relative after another, and now my husband. When will it end?

     “I can’t see the light at the end of this very long, dark tunnel. I’m miserable.”

Carrie could be suffering from many different negative emotions: burnout, resentment, anger. She has no close connections and feels helpless and lonely.

And at this writing, the world is experiencing a worldwide COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, which only exacerbates and upends Carrie’s already difficult situation.

Why are persistent feelings of sadness and isolation so dangerous?

Recent studies link loneliness to severe health conditions.

The State of Loneliness Today

“Sad because one has no friends or company.”—Oxford English Dictionary

Studies show older adults are at increased risk for loneliness and social isolation because they are more likely to face factors such as loss of family or friends.

As mentioned above, Carrie has “lost” her husband for all practical purposes due to his chronic illness and her having to care for him 24/7.

At the same time, the world, including here in the U.S., is in the middle of a pandemic: COVID-19 (coronavirus). Practicing “social distancing” (or physical distancing) is a significant way to prevent spreading the virus.

These guidelines restrict interaction with others. (More on this later in this article.)

According to the latest statistics on loneliness (2016-2020), data show loneliness in the general U.S. population; 61% of Americans were lonely in 2019. In 2018, the number was 54%.

These data are before COVID-19.

Long before coronavirus spread worldwide, former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy warned of the dangers of loneliness. He worked hard to bring attention to the “loneliness epidemic.”

Murthy believes that loneliness takes a toll on physical and mental health and links social connection to a 50% drop in the risk of early death.

In Dr. Murthy’s new book, he discusses the toll of isolation on America’s health:

Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World.

(Find his book on Amazon.com)

Serious Health Risks Linked to Loneliness

Though it is hard to measure, recent studies found these severe health risks related to loneliness:

  • Premature death (similar to dangers from smoking and obesity)
  • 50% increased risk of dementia
  • 29% increased risk of heart disease
  • 32% increased risk of stroke
  • Higher rates of clinical depression, anxiety, and suicide

(Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Effects of loneliness on general health include:

  • Trouble concentrating and remembering details and making decisions
  • Low energy or fatigue
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Sleep problems; sleeping too little (insomnia) or sleeping too much
  • Appetite change; overeating or appetite loss
  • Digestive problems
  • Loss of interest in things you usually enjoy
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and helplessness
  • Recurrent pain, such as headaches or cramps
  • Persistent sadness, anxiety, or feelings of emptiness
  • Pessimism and hopelessness

(Source: WebMD.com)

(Note: This is not a diagnosis. If you experience any of the above to an excessive degree, please see a mental health professional.)

Loneliness and Social Isolation

Many nations, including in the U.S., are attempting to control and manage the spread of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) thought to spread mainly from person to person.

There is currently no vaccine to prevent coronavirus disease.

The director of the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), Dr. Robert R. Redfield, outlined several steps we can take to protect each other:

  • Stay home as much as possible.
  • Practice social distancing (staying at least 6 feet, or two arms’ length from other people who are not from your household indoor and outdoor spaces.
  • Wear cloth mask (face covering) in public settings, especially when other social distancing measures are challenging to maintain. Note: respiratory droplets spread when someone coughs, sneezes, raise their voice, shouts, chants, or sings, and can land in the mouths or noses of people nearby, or perhaps inhaled into the lungs. Some people with COVID-19 lack symptoms and can transmit the virus to others before showing signs.
  • Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

There are also guidelines regarding isolation and quarantine. (Guidelines can change, so be sure to speak with your doctor.)

COVID-19 (coronavirus) is highly contagious, which cannot be stressed enough.

Thus, interacting face-to-face with others individually or in crowds is a significant health risk.

But to quote Dr. Robert R. Redfield of the CDC:

“We are not defenseless against COVID-19. Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus—particularly when used universally with a community setting. All Americans have a responsibility to protect themselves, their families, and their communities.”

Meanwhile, gone are trips to the movies, concerts, bar lounges, and attending churches and other worship places for services and funerals.

Even eating in restaurants is incredibly limited.

Numerous businesses have closed (some temporarily but many permanently), and countless other employer groups have asked employees to work from home.

Most schools are closed and have moved to virtual learning.

Staying connected to friends and loved ones in the middle of this pandemic is difficult, if not impossible.

Many people, like Carrie, are desperately lonely during this time, experiencing profound disconnection.

So, what can Carrie and others that have no close connections, do about loneliness?

What You Can Do About Loneliness

As discussed above, prolonged loneliness can be dangerous to your health—especially your mental health.

Social distancing recommended during the pandemic can leave you feeling lonely.

If we perceive ourselves as socially or emotionally isolated, if we lack deep friendships, if we lack any meaningful relationships at all, we could suffer “chronic” loneliness.

Chronic loneliness goes far beyond fundamental unhappiness; you must work to do something about it.

A Few Ideas:

  1. Stick to a Schedule. Make your days feel as normal as possible by staying with your daily routine. Follow your to-do list if you have one.
  2. Stay Active. Don’t focus exclusively on managing your mental health; engage in at-home activities for physical fitness. (Practice workouts at home with YouTube videos or go outside for a walk, when possible.)
  3. Keep Up-to-Date. Learn what’s going on in your community and the country because COVID-19 mandates and guidelines change. You don’t want to stress out by watching world news day in and day out, as this is dangerous to your mental health, but do keep abreast of the latest health information. Make sure you seek sites that give factual, up-to-date guidelines.
  4. Pray and Meditate. People who connect to their internal spirituality are more resilient emotionally if you are a spiritual person.
  5. Practice Self-Care. Add techniques like mindfulness and daily affirmations to help you feel more optimistic  
  6. Practice Empathy. You will feel less lonely and more social connectedness if you practice empathy for yourself and others. Feeling compassion will also help you manage your anxiety and reduce overwhelm.
  7. Participate in Online Communities. Join and participate in Facebook groups of interest to you to combat loneliness. I participated in an online caregiving support group when I cared for my husband, 24/7, that proved to be a lifesaver for me.

Join Voice-Chat app, QuarantineChat@dialup.com for serendipitous connections with people around the world affected by the virus. (Available on iOS and Android.)

  • Write. Daily journal writing is an excellent way to combat loneliness. Writing in a journal permits you to look closely and think deeply about everyday events in your life. You can chronicle the ups and downs, as well as the pains and joys of your life. You can express yourself without inhibition and get to know yourself better through journal writing.

Older adults (65+), particularly, self-isolate during the pandemic making them more susceptible to loneliness.

Just making regular phone calls to relatives and asking for help from family members will help stave off feeling alone. 

Additional Resources:

Volunteer Match

Find volunteer opportunities in your area.

www.volunteermatch.org

American Volkssport Association (AVA)

A national organization that promotes fitness with many local clubs that sponsor walks and other fitness events.

http://www.ava.org

Silver Sneakers

A national network of gyms with free membership for those with participating health plans, and a community of other adults seeking to remain fit and involved. Tools to help you stay in shape and have fun.

www.tools.silversneakers.com

Meetup

A convenient way to find events in your neighborhood. Discover and join from the comfort of your home. Events include outdoor & adventure, learning, career & business, health & wellness, and social.

www.meetup.com

Senior Theatre Resource Center

Plays for community theatre, online theatre, plays by theme, readers theatre. Information for older adults interested in performing.

www.seniortheatre.com

Encore

An online resource for those interested in utilizing their experience and knowledge to work—paid or unpaid—with social impact, to benefit future generations.

“We are older activists, innovators, and leaders, standing with younger allies to bridge divides, connect across generations, and create a better future together.”

www.encore.org

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Summary

Feeling lonely and being isolated is terrible for your health.

Higher rates of depression, a weakened immune system, heart disease, and early death are just a few of the tragedies associated with loneliness.

If you live alone, can’t leave your home, feel alone or disconnected from others, recently had a significant loss or change, a caregiver, and a lack of purpose, you must find an activity you enjoy.

Indeed, loneliness can affect your body and your mind.

But all is not lost. You can do something about loneliness.

“My books are always about somebody taken from aloneness and isolation—often elevated loneliness—to community. It may be a denigrated community that is filthy and poor, but they are not alone; they are with people.”—Chuck Palahniuk

Use the ideas discussed in this article to soothe the emotional suffering that loneliness creates.

And find your community!

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Disclaimer: The content in this article is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. If the emotional pain of loneliness is too great, talk to your doctor or healthcare provider for therapy or treatment. 

Improve the Quality of Your Life: Sleep

Improve the Quality of Your Life: Sleep

“Happiness consists of getting enough sleep. Just that, nothing more.”

— Robert A. Heinlein

According to the 2020 U.S. census data, the oldest of the estimated 73 million Baby Boomers will hit 74 years old by the end of the year, the youngest 56.

By the year 2030, all Boomers will be age 65 or older.

With time steamrolling ahead, what is one of the most significant quests for midlife adults today? Better health.

This article will focus on one area of health: sleep.

Why Sleep?

A German philosopher said that “sleep is to a man that winding up is to a clock.” It restores energy to the body, the brain, and the rest of the nervous system.

After a good night’s sleep, we awake in good spirits, eager to charge ahead in work before us, feeling much better, and looking better.

Moreover, sleep gives us a break from life’s cares and tensions. In sleep, we rest our bodies and have rest from such burdens as poverty, loneliness, poor health, and injustices.

Today, in 2020, we face a worldwide health pandemic: COVID-19.

Nowadays, life overflows with anxiety and stress!

Cervantes said centuries ago concerning sleep: “It is meat for the hungry, drinks for the thirsty, heat for the cold, and cold for the hot.”

Proper sleep is vital to our health and well-being.

What Kind of Sleep?

Sleep is a natural condition that occurs regularly and in which one loses awareness of one’s surroundings.  Though it is a mystery as to what sleep is, the Oxford English Dictionary offers this definition:

“A state of rest in which the nervous system is inactive, the eyes are closed, the muscles are relaxed, and the mind is unconscious.”

There are two kinds of sleep.

In one kind of sleep, which starts with drowsiness and gets deeper and deeper, profound restorative processes occur. Your breathing and your heartbeat slow down, your blood pressure drops, and your limbs relax.

Experts believe this deep sleep is an aid to memory. It lasts for about ninety minutes.

Afterward, you return to a sleep much lighter in some respects, and other respects, deeper. It is called the REM stage and marked by the side-to-side Rapid Eye Movement, which indicates that you are dreaming.

Your heartbeat greatly fluctuates, and your limbs grow tense, indicating that your mind and your body are involved in dreaming.

After about ten minutes of REM sleep, you will again go into a deep sleep for another ninety minutes and then back up, and so on throughout the night.

Most researchers believe that both kinds of sleep are essential for mental and physical health; one cannot take the other’s place.

As to how long you sleep, quality is more than quantity.

However, with aging sleep patterns tend to change.

Sleeplessness: A Common Complaint

If you have trouble sleeping, you have plenty of company, especially in industrialized countries like the United States where sleeplessness or insomnia is most common.

And insomnia is one of the more common sleep problems in older people.

Sleeplessness usually takes one of three forms. Some have a lot of difficulties falling to sleep in the first place. Others fall asleep readily but wake up early in the morning and cannot go back to sleep. With still others, the problem is that they keep waking up intermittently.

Most people find that aging causes them to have a harder time falling asleep. They awaken more often during the night and earlier in the morning.

Studies published in Science Daily (2018), show that “One in four Americans develop insomnia each year. About 25% experience acute insomnia, characterized by difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep for as little as three nights per week for at least two consecutive weeks up to three months.”

It also appears that by and large, women have more difficulty sleeping than do men.

What Causes Insomnia?

One of a hundred different things can cause insomnia.

It could be inherited, a genetic defect in which the brain fails to produce serotonin, a hormone-like substance. This substance is said to act like a “sleep juice” that enters the blood and causes the body to become sleepy.

Your problem may be caused by some low-grade pain that is ignored while you are busy during the day but persists enough at night to cause you to wake up from time to time.

Your trouble sleeping could be a poorly ventilated room, or because your mattress is too hard or too soft.

Your trouble sleeping may be due to a stimulant such as coffee, tea, or a cola drink.

You may have had the habit of eating a heavy meal of food hard to digest shortly before going to bed. Or, just the opposite, hunger may keep you awake, even as constipation at times interferes with sleep.

Negative emotions, such as feelings of guilt, excessive ambition, emotional insecurity, and especially anxiety or worries, may keep you from sleeping.

Mental depression can also cause insomnia and, in particular, can nervous exhaustion. The same can be said for hostile or aggressive feelings, even though unconscious.

On the other hand, too much excitement, or chasing after thrills, can cheat you of sleep.

No matter what the underlying cause, you perhaps agree with this quote:

“The worst thing in the world is to try to sleep and not to.”

—F. Scott Fitzgerald

How to Defeat Insomnia

Must you resort to pills to defeat insomnia?

No.

In the publication Sleep Research, Dr. F.R. Freemon stated, “The promiscuous prescribing of sleep medications is the most common error in medicine.”

Taking sleeping pills may seem the most comfortable way out, but they can become addictive.

You should use them only in case of emergencies.

And older people respond differently to medicines than do younger people. Thus, it is crucial to talk with a provider before taking sleep medicines; avoid them if at all possible.

Try these basic ideas:

  • Ensure your bedroom is well ventilated, and your mattress is comfortable (not too soft or too hard).
  • Turn down the noise.
  • Avoid drinking coffee or cola drinks after midday.
  • Avoid eating a heavy meal or spicy foods shortly before bedtime.
  • DO NOT take naps during the day.
  • Take a walk or do some light stretching if you sit all day at work (nothing too strenuous as this will stimulate and keep you from sleeping).
  • Learn to relax (meditation, restorative yoga, or reading).
  • Practice deep breathing.
  • Try a warm bath to help you relax.
  • Use calming herbs and scents (lemon balm, passionflower, lavender, chamomile, valerian root).
  • Play soothing music.
  • Try to go to bed at the same time every night and wake at the same time each morning.
  • Have the right mental and emotional state (the worst thing you can do is a worry when you can’t fall asleep).

(Source: A Family Caregiver’s Guide: 7 Secrets to Convert Negative Triggers to Positive Emotions)

I repeat, whatever you do, stop worrying. Worry only hampers your sleep. Usually, there is no danger in being without sleep for a period now and then.

The Swiss psychotherapist Paul Debois likens sleep to a dove. If you hold your hand but gently, it comes voluntarily and settles on it. But if you try to grab it, it flies away.

How Much Sleep Do You Need?

It depends.

One study found that fewer than six hours makes it harder for your brain to tune out distractions and focus.

Another article stated that some “short” sleepers (of around four hours) had good sleep quality.

A research paper published in Sleep Health, recommended the following ranges for sleep for healthy individuals and those not suffering from sleep disorders:

  • Teenagers—eight to ten hours
  • Adults and young adults—seven to nine hours
  • Older adults—seven to eight hours (or slightly decrease to 6.5 to 7 hours per night)

Be aware that sleep is an ever-changing field. To learn more about sleep duration, visit: https://www.sleephealthjournal.org

Here you will find a sleep duration recommendations chart.

Summary

Find the cause.

It is essential to find the real cause of your sleeping problem if indeed you have one.

Sleeplessness may be a symptom of some physical disorder, such as hypertension or upset stomach.

But often, the cause is in your mind rather than in your body.

Are you worrying about something?

Try to reason it out with yourself in a balanced way.

Prayer, expressions of gratitude, can put a person’s mind at ease.

Consulting a wise and mature friend regarding your problem may be beneficial.

In many respects, sound sleep might be considered a reward for the right living.

If you are a religious person, you undoubtedly agree with Solomon, who says of those exercising godly wisdom: “When you lie down, your sleep will be pleasant.” (Proverbs 3:24)

That godly wisdom would include producing the fruits of God’s spirit, such as “love, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control,” all conducive to good sleep. (Galatians 5:22, 23).

So, if you are having trouble sleeping, do not become discouraged. There are several remedies or adjustments in your life that you might make to correct the problem.

If you suffer from sleeplessness, why not try the simple ideas found in this article?  If they don’t work, see your doctor.

While it may be true that sleeplessness never killed anybody, it is equally valid that, as a haggard victim of insomnia, said: “It can make you wish you were dead!”

Finally, if you are an older adult, you absolutely can improve the quality of your life right now.

How?

Sleep.

When it comes to your health and well-being in later years: “Sleep is the golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.”—Thomas Dekker

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Disclaimer: The content in this article is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider before undertaking any type of therapy or treatment. 

Are You Sitting Your Life Away? 7 Tips to Reduce Health Risks

Are You Sitting Your Life Away? 7 Tips to Reduce Health Risks

“Sitting while socially engaged might be something that’s very good for you. Likewise, sitting for a few minutes to decompress after a stressful day could be good for you.” –Jacqueline Kerr, Ph.D., associate professor of family and preventive medicine at UC San Diego

Are you sitting down while reading this article?  If so, we immediately have something in common because I’m sitting in front of my desktop computer writing.

How long have you been sitting?

What is sitting too much?

Under 2019 “Trending Articles” on the US National Library of Medicine National Institute of Health (PubMed) website, is the article, “Too Much Sitting: A Newly Recognized Health Risk.”

According to the PubMed article, even 30-minutes of continuous sitting is too long.

Are you sitting too much?

Some studies suggest sitting for a prolonged seven or eight hours may be bad for your health. However, according to the PubMed article, even 30-minutes of uninterrupted sitting can put you at risk.

What Are the Health Risks?

According to numerous studies:
  • Obesity; Too Much Belly Fat
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Heart Disease
  • Cancer
  • High Blood Pressure
  • High Cholesterol
  • Stroke
  • Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT); Blood Clots
  • Osteoporosis (weaken bones)
  • Misalignment of the Neck, Shoulders, and Upper Spine
  • Kidney Disease
  • Increased Anxiety (you withdraw from friends)
  • Early Death

Why Is Sitting Too Much Linked with Health Problems?

According to Andrea LaCroix, Ph.D., director of the Women’s Health Center of Excellence at the University of California, San Diego, Harvard Medical School: “Scientists can’t explain it. And they emphasize that a link doesn’t prove that too much sitting causes these diseases. One possibility: Sitting for a long time causes muscles to burn less fat and blood to flow more sluggishly. Both can increase the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and other problems.”

To quote Harvard Medical School: “Researchers aren’t sure why prolonged sitting has such harmful health consequences. But one possible explanation is that it relaxes your largest muscles. When muscles relax, they take up very little glucose from the blood, raising your risk of type 2 diabetes. “

One aerobic instructor put it this way, “Blood is getting stuck in your legs, and pooled at your feet. If your knees are bent, you’re further impeding the return flow back to your heart. Sitting too long allows your metabolism to slow down.”

Dr. Barry Braun, director of Energy Metabolism Laboratory at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, says, “People who sit the most are most likely to be obese. However, are people obese because they sit too much, or do they sit too much because they are obese?” Thus, in some cases, it’s unclear which way the link goes.

What You Can Do to Stop the Negative Effects of Uninterrupted Sitting

Tip #1: Avoid long periods sat in front of a TV or computer.

Tip #2: Set an alarm clock on your cell phone (on low) to remind you to stand up and stretch every 30 minutes or so.

Tip #3: Stand at your desk for part of the day; talk to your boss about a treadmill desk or set your computer on top of a box.

Tip #4: “Walk and talk” rather than “sit and speak” while on the phone.

Tip #5: Walk around the house, touch your toes, or do a few stretching exercises to relax the chest and hip muscles.

Tip #6: Maintain stuff yourself such as vacuuming, washing your car, and cutting the grass instead of paying others to do your chores to keep the blood pumping.

Tip #7: Exercise during commercial breaks when watching TV.

Does Physical Activity Compensate for Sitting?

No. Exercise is not an “antidote” to excess sitting, experts say.

Marc Hamilton, Ph.D. of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, says “It is increasingly clear that prolonged sitting is bad for everyone, whether they are fit or fat, or active or inactive.

“The experimental studies conducted by us and others are consistent in finding that sitting too much is unhealthy even in people who are not overweight and those who exercise regularly.”

Bottom Line

Based on the expert and scientific studies quoted above, it seems clear that less sitting and more moving overall contribute to better health.

“Too much sitting overall and prolonged periods of sitting seem to increase risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer, says Dr. Laskowski of Mayo Clinic.

Who wants that???

So, stand up, walk around, stretch, get out of the chair or off the couch and move your body!

As David Bolton, physiotherapist says, “Motion is lotion.”

Finally

Here’s a link to Bow-flex, fitness advisor, Tom Holland’s YouTube video called “3 Stretches for People Who Sit All Day.” This video is less than three minutes long.

It demonstrates how to stretch the back muscles that get super tight from sitting all day. The video shows how to open up your chest muscles to improve posture, especially if you sit hunched over a computer keyboard for hours on end.  https://goo.gl/jkjFMm

I tried this exercise and found it to be super fun and useful.

Please, do not sit your life away. Think about the cost to your health, the pain, and misery of your body. Keep your joints, loose, mobile, active, and do so regularly—get moving!