Facing Loneliness as we Age
I've never enjoyed being alone. More than three decades ago, circumstances left me alone after the death of my husband at age 36, with two small children to care for. That was a situation I never imagined myself in, but since fate intervened, life had to go on. On the other hand, some people enjoy being alone and always have throughout their lives, often referred to as ‘loners”.
For these people, this gives them the freedom to rediscover themselves. To them, being alone does not mean feeling lonely. They socialize by getting together with their friends from time to time, or keep themselves occupied with other activities, such as tending a home garden.
Loneliness itself, is an emotion. It's a feeling of sadness attributed to not having a connection to others. The dissatisfaction with emotional and social relationships, the feeling of emptiness, the fear of being unwanted, of being left alone. Sometimes when this happens, you may not feel like connecting with anyone, which makes the feeling of loneliness even more pronounced.
What Leads to Loneliness in Later Life?
Some elderly men and women end up alone as they age – when their respective spouses pass away, or when their children that grow up and lead their own lives. This sense of loss can have a huge impact on their very being for a long time. Grieving is a normal human reaction to losing someone you care about, after all.
For certain elderly adults that have their movements curtailed for various reasons, they have to deal with changes in health and lifestyle. Coupled with physical pain and loss of mobility, the elderly might find it more difficult to get out and enjoy activities with other people.
Where women are concerned, if they lose their spouse, they might find themselves in a position with lesser income and fewer opportunities to get out. Some may have been so dependent on their husband to drive them around that they face difficulties readapting back into an independent lifestyle.
Being lonely – What happens to you?
Loneliness can cause stress, which hinders your immune system, making you more vulnerable to illnesses and infections. Some people turn towards medication to ease the feelings of fear or anxiety, a short term solution that does not address the long term problem.
How do we prevent and reduce loneliness?
There is a difference between being a loner and being shy. When engaging with our loved ones, be generous with small talk and keep some sort of conversation going. If you have an open personality, it’s much easier to make a difference in someone else’s life. Put that to good use.
Here are some other suggestions.
- Smile, It's free! - A simple smile coupled with a “Hello” or Good morning can be contagious in a good way. Spreading good vibes helps to develop friendships, and help to bring meaning into the lives of the elderly.
- Offer a helping hand - Offering help often makes the party in need feel better, even if the task is trivial. Helping each other out with favors helps to develop a caring bond, and makes the elderly feel useful and helps them regain their sense of importance and self-worth.
- Keep connected - Make a conscious, consistent effort to reach out. Even if there is an initial reluctance to reciprocate, they will eventually come to see how much you care, and recognize your efforts.
- Be in control - Even if loneliness strikes at some point in your life, try not to fall too deeply into it. Getting stuck in negative thinking clouds your judgment, and often makes you feel lonelier than you truly are. Learn to accept that emotion, and engage in activities that make you feel good instead.
Remember, you’re only as alone or as lonely as you let yourself be. If you don’t like where you are, try one of the options above and start making a change. Kick loneliness to the curb and start living.