From check-ins at romantic dinners to photos of shiny new engagement rings, images on social media of “happy couples” are constantly populating our news feeds. And let’s be honest, it can be a tad overwhelming around the mother of all romantic holidays: Valentine’s Day.
According to a study from Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, repeated exposure to such images can have a negative influence on one’s mental health and lead to loneliness. Before diving into some simple solutions, let’s break down what it actually means to be lonely.
How to break up with feeling lonely
It’s important to recognize and take loneliness seriously even though it’s commonly thought of as a simple emotion. The reality is: It can have a huge impact on one’s mental health and can even increase your risk of dying earlier. A study from Heart in 2016 found that the risk of loneliness and social isolation is equal to the health risk of being extremely obese. That being said, there are a lot of things you can do to address your loneliness.
1. Share your personal thoughts with a professional listener
If there is a discrepancy between the social life you have and the social life you want, perhaps it’s a matter of perspective. Sometimes talking things out with an unbiased person like a counselor or a therapist can help you figure out what it is you truly want out of your relationships. Knowing yourself is the first step to understanding what it is you want.
2. A furry friend can lift your mood
Bringing a pet into your life may alleviate loneliness by providing social support and companionship. Don’t underestimate the power of the animal to human connection! Pet therapy is a valued practice that pairs a person with a trained animal meant to help improve mental health and social skills.
3. Explore new hobbies and activities
Whether it is gardening, volunteering for a cause that you’re passionate about, or joining a sports league, any activity that gets you to focus on relaxing and developing new skills will help you increase your self-esteem and can help treat loneliness. There is no wrong answer here, just listen within and explore new opportunities!
4. Volunteer at a nursing home
Older adults statistically have the highest risk for feeling lonely. By volunteering your time at a nursing home or hospice, you are doing a great service by reducing their feelings of boredom and helplessness. The positivity and human connection may just be contagious!
5. Make sure you are not depressed
Sometimes depression symptoms can cause disturbances in our perception and can mimic feelings of loneliness. It’s very important to make sure the depression isn’t the cause of the loneliness as opposed to vice versa. Don’t be afraid to talk to you doctor if you’re concerned that you may be feeling depressed and that it’s impacting your ability to be social or combat feelings of loneliness.
6. Take a break from social media
If you find that you’re feeling lonely as a result of everyone else’s pics and status updates, log off and take a breather! Taking some time away from social media can provide you with some clarity and allow you time to process what it is you’re looking for in your relationships. You may even develop a newfound appreciation for the relationships you already have!
Priyanka Wali is a board-certified internal medicine physician and stand-up comedian. You can follow her on Twitter @WaliPriyanka.