Loneliness has become an epidemic. One report suggests that 36% of all Americans felt “serious loneliness.” Worse, 61% of young adults feel “serious loneliness” (See Loneliness in America). That is bad news for a person’s physical and emotional health. Loneliness is worse for a person than obesity. Chronic loneliness is as bad for your health s smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It increases the risk of high blood pressure. It contributes to depression. (For more on the health risks of loneliness, see The Facts on Loneliness.) Fortunately, though, you can inoculate your family against chronic loneliness in at least 3 ways.
First, involve your family in social activities. Social activities provide opportunities to develop relationships and nurture social supports. Get involved with groups that give each family member a sense that people care for them. You might find supportive relationships and groups through involvement in community sports, clubs, a reading group or a “coffee klatch.” Church groups and youth groups provide another excellent avenue for developing relationships with caring people along with the opportunity to participate in meaningful activities that can reduce loneliness.
Second, teach your family to nurture relationships. Teaching the skills needed to nurture relationships begins in the home. You begin to teach the skill of nurturing relationships by practicing it within the family. Ask one another for assistance. Share emotions with one another. Allow yourself the vulnerability to ask for help and comfort. Take the risk of asking one another to do things together. Extend these skills toward trusted others outside the family. Develop family friends. Enjoy multi-family activities. Build your village.
Third, follow the advice of a recent Penn State study. Engage in meaningful and challenging activities, “flow” activities. These activities require skill and concentration. They are challenging and demand our full attention, but they are not impossible. When a “flow” activity come to an end, we are often surprised by how much time has passed. A recent Penn State study revealed that engaging in meaningful, enjoyable activities that require concentration and skill (AKA— “flow” activities) reduced loneliness. In fact, these “flow” activities were even more important to reducing loneliness than high levels of social support. You can help your children discover their flow activities through questions, trying various activities and interests “on for size,” observing, and listening. Some may find their “flow” in music. Others in writing, athletics, storytelling, cooking, or other skilled activities. One hint when seeking a “flow” activity though, watching television lacks the challenge and skill needed to create a “flow” experience, as does scrolling through social media. So just knock them off the list of potential “flow” experiences to help reduce loneliness and go right to the more challenging, skill-oriented experiences noted above.
Don’t let the epidemic of loneliness infect and grow in your family. Inoculate your children and your family against loneliness with a village, a model, and “flow” to protect them against chronic loneliness.