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Combating Loneliness In The Golden Years

Loneliness is a very real problem for people of all ages, but it seems to prey greatly on those of advancing years.  It can cause all kinds of issues, from undue stress, to depression & feelings of worthlessness.  While all of us naturally will have times in our lives that are more lonely than others, we need not just go with the flow if the time period is becoming extended.  There are things we can do to fight it off & lighten the heaviness created by it.

First, evaluate the changes that have occurred in your life to make you feel this way.  Has there been a death of a loved one?  Have several friends moved to other places like nursing homes or #assisted living facilities?  Are there family and friends that are struggling with their health & are no longer able to go out and about like they used to?  Are you struggling with your health?  It's important to think through all of the many changes so that you understand why you are justifiably struggling during this time.  Every major change in life brings about stress, & big changes such as these will take time to heal & require thought to develop a plan for how life will continue best after having fought through them.

Second, find your strengths.  Are you naturally a gathering person?  What I mean by this is do you like to gather people together for functions or even just to have them come to your kitchen for a cup of coffee and conversation?  If you are, start small, but make a couple of calls to people you feel may be likely to accept your invitation.

Third, consider starting new traditions. I know of someone who gathers her aunt & cousin together on the same date every year to celebrate their birthdays which all fall in the same month. They look forward to the conversation & time with people that they otherwise do not see on a regular basis, even though they live within 1 hour of each other.  If you have cousins, nephews & nieces, friends, children or grandchildren that you don't see often, consider organizing an occasion to visit together. It does not have to be a large gathering, though it could be, if you desire to put in a lot of effort.

Consider getting a pet if your living situation allows for it.  Something about a dog or cat, or even a bird, makes humans feel less alone.  It's nice to have someone to talk to as we bustle about our day.  Someone that shows affection to us on the days when we see nary a soul.  Someone to care for & that cares that we've gotten up to greet the day with them.

Observe nature.  Watching the birds that come to your feeders & having a book on hand can help to combat loneliness.  Knowing that there is a world of quiet solitude that is also full of life can help us as we enter this stage of life.  Taking walks & identifying the trees we see along the paths, or the flowers & plants will make you feel as though your are coming to meet new friends & watch how they progress throughout the year.  Even indoor plants can have this affect as we wait for the blossoming times & take cuttings to form new plants to offer to family and friends.  Field guides are incredibly helpful in all these areas to become truly familiar with the things that you find.  You may be surprised at what you locate that you've never noticed before.

Join clubs, guilds or community organizations.  There are as many clubs, guilds and organizations out there as there are hobbies & interests.  If you cannot find them in person, you may be able to find them online & be able to chat with people with similar interests in forums.  If you are fortunate to find a quilting guild, for instance, near you, make it a point to attend meetings & offer any help that you're able to give.  Several communities have senior centers to get involved in.  Other communities have home economics groups that meet.  Nearly every community has community education courses that one could take if they were interested in any of the courses offered.  These are several ways in which to reach out to the broader community and meet people with whom you do not otherwise interact.  Maybe you'll make a steadfast friend, or at the very least, you'll pass the time in a productive manner & learn new skills.  Either way, the time was not wasted!

Consider music.  Whether it's playing an instrument, singing or simply listening to & learning music, this can be a very worthwhile aid in combating loneliness.  Music has the ability to change emotion.  It can lighten our darker moods or dampen our light moods.  If you have a talent with an instrument, consider passing that on to a student or two.  I knew an older woman of 92 who was still giving lessons to a couple of children a week, even though she had early stages of #dementia.  She may not have had the lessons laid out consecutively each week, but the students were still learning & growing, not just from the piano that she taught, but also greater lessons about what it means to care for someone going through the frightening changes of old age.  If you do not know how to play an instrument, simply play music.  It does not matter the genre.  Try to listen to a number of works by a certain composer.  See if you can identify their songs by only hearing them, even if you do not see who wrote it.  Try listening to music from different generations & get a feel for the music that stirred them.  Then bring it up in conversation when you meet someone from that generation.  They may be very surprised that you know the groups that were popular, and it may be an opening into more meaningful conversations.

Lastly, do not feel alone in your loneliness.  This may sound ridiculous, but sometimes simply knowing that this is a common thing for all of us to face helps a great deal.  We're all learning and growing through this process, just as we have through all the other challenges we've faced in life.  Let's face it with strength and a little ingenuity.  We'll get through it just fine!

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