Loneliness and depression can be paralyzing, but often taking simple actions can lift your mood and motivate you to continue working towards a happier life.
It’s normal to feel lonely or depressed sometimes. Everyone has blue days or times when they feel disconnected from friends or family. But if these feelings persist, you could be at risk for developing chronic depression. Loneliness and depression can develop whether you live alone or in a household. Often, these feelings arise out of a loss of purpose, boredom, or isolation from others. The good news is there are many simple actions you can take to help you feel more productive, valued, and appreciated, and give you a sense of purpose and belonging.
- Adopt or foster a pet. Taking care of a furry friend, and enjoying the companionship they provide, can be very rewarding. If you can’t own your own pet, look into sitting for a neighbor’s pet, helping to take care of foster animals, or volunteering with a shelter.
- Call friends and family. Many of us have become so used to texting and email, we don’t have real conversations as much as we used to. There is no replacement for hearing someone’s voice and laughter. If you hesitate to call friends or family because you think they are too busy, don’t let that stop you. Everyone appreciates knowing someone else is thinking about them.
- Declutter your home. This may seem odd, but research shows that living amid clutter and disorganization negatively affects your brain. Even organizing your kitchen junk drawer can gift you a mood lift. Living in a clean and organized environment can give you a sense of pride and help you feel productive.
- Eat healthily. There is plenty of research showing that a healthy diet promotes good mental health. A diet like the Mediterranean Diet, with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and lean protein, and low in fatty and processed foods, is easy to follow and is recommended by physicians more than any other eating plan.
- Explore your faith. Many people find that connecting with their religious or spiritual beliefs gives them the sense that they are never alone. Exploring your faith also gives you something meaningful to do and may lead you to connect with other like-minded people through a church or spiritual organization.
- Get outside. Sunshine and fresh air can do wonders. Getting outside in the world also helps you put yourself in perspective with the world around you and can help you feel less isolated. Getting a little Vitamin D from the sun doesn’t just keep your bones strong, it also affects your mood.
- Grow plants. There is something very soothing about working with plants and the earth. Whether you have a yard where you can grow many things, or you are restricted to growing houseplants or herbs in pots, you may find tending to your plants, and profiting from the beauty or edibles they provide, to be both comforting and a source of pride.
- Join an online group. There is no limit to online groups available to you. You can join groups dedicated to a hobby you enjoy, something you want to learn about, travel destinations, sports teams, health or exercise habits, politics, religious preferences, and more. Check out groups in the Facebook app, or search online.
- Perform Acts of kindness. One of the best ways to feel happier and more connected is to do things for others. It can be simple acts such as sending a card or letter to someone you haven’t seen in a long time, bringing baked goods or treats to the staff at your favorite restaurant or your community dining hall, or picking flowers for a neighbor. If you have a talent for fixing things or sewing, you can offer your services to your community.
- Practice Self Love. Love thyself is great advice. Research shows that people who are hard on themselves, are at a higher risk for developing depression. Stop criticizing yourself and treat yourself with love, take good care of your body and your mind. Use positive affirmations any time you find yourself starting to think negative thoughts about yourself.
- Reach out to others. Loneliness and depression often make you feel as if you are the only ones feeling that way, but you are not alone. Reach out to others who live alone or are far from family. Chances are, you will find someone who would love to meet for coffee, talk a walk, play cards, or watch a movie.
- Take a class. Learning something new helps to stimulate the growth of neurons in your brain, build confidence in yourself, and connect you with people who are interested in the same things you are. Look into classes that may be offered at your retirement community, your local community college, museums, parks, or online. As with online groups, the internet provides an unlimited opportunity for learning, and you can often interact with other participants.
- Volunteer. You may not realize this, but you have skills that other people need. It could be answering phones, rocking babies, cooking meals, walking dogs, registering participants, ushering at a theater, reading to kids, or welcoming people. If you have serious skills, like gardening, repairing appliances, sewing, or teaching an instrument, you can be a valuable asset to others in your community. Check out VolunteerMatch.org, an organization that helps match people with opportunities in their area.
- Talk to a therapist. If you have tried working on your feelings of depression and loneliness with no relief, are having trouble sleeping or sleep all the time, are using drugs and alcohol to excess, are having thoughts of harming yourself, or if you just want to talk to someone, make an appointment to talk to a licensed mental health professional, or try online counseling with an organization like Talkspace.com. A professional therapist can give you tools to help or provide medication when necessary.
Do you have other ideas? Feel free to add them in the comments or let us know if any of these ideas have worked for you.