Staying close to family and friends is often vital to aging well and living a long, meaningful life.
People who connect socially are generally healthier, happier and better able to confront whatever obstacles are thrown their way, reports show. Conversely, those who are socially isolated may sleep less, abuse alcohol or drugs more and experience bouts of loneliness. They may suffer from depression, dementia or face other serious health problems.
"Our epidemic of loneliness and isolation has been an under-appreciated public health crisis that has harmed individual and societal health,” said U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy as part of an advisory calling attention to the issue. "Our relationships are a source of healing and well-being hiding in plain sight — one that can help us live healthier, more fulfilled, and more productive lives. Given the significant health consequences of loneliness and isolation, we must prioritize building social connection the same way we have prioritized other critical public health issues such as tobacco, obesity, and substance use disorders.”
Sadly, loneliness can be a catch-22: As people age, they are more likely to encounter physical or mental challenges that may make socializing more difficult. Yet making connections may reduce the likelihood of experiencing such problems.
At the same time, as people get older, some of the friends and loved ones who used to navigate life with them may no longer be around. A study published in 2019 suggests that those who are grieving a spouse are at a high risk for loneliness. The pandemic made things worse.
Indeed, more than half of nearly 2,000 people in the U.S. who were part of an AARP online survey in June 2022, said they knew someone personally who passed away or became seriously ill from COVID-19. As a result, two-thirds of those people report that social connections and spending time with loved ones are much more important to them now.
But the pandemic changed even respondents who did not know someone who died or became seriously ill from COVID. Nearly 60 percent of them indicated the importance of such social connections and spending high-quality time with the people they love.
Many potential antidotes to loneliness
Fortunately, you can counteract loneliness in myriad ways that generally fit such categories as making time to give back, seeing the world, learning alongside others or relaxing with friends. But no one solution can help people make social connections, especially since not everyone has the same financial resources, physical capabilities or circle of friends to rely on.
In no particular order, here are 13 free or low-cost ways that you can meet new people or reconnect with friends if you’ve lost touch.
1. Organize a reunion. Reach out on social media or through alumni groups to former school, workplace or summer camp chums who are presumably just as eager to rekindle relationships. Family reunions, small or large, fit the bill, too.
Arrange an in-person reunion if possible, and if people can afford it, maybe even travel to some far-flung destination. If not, FaceTime, Zoom or another video chat app may be your next best option. Follow up with regularly scheduled chats or meetups.
2. Take a trip. Where have you always wanted to go? Now may be the time to take that trip, budget and health permitting.
If you’re into genealogy, perhaps the trip you take is to follow your ancestral roots. You might even discover and meet distant kin living in another country.
Visit and volunteer for your cause
3. Volunteer. Are you passionate about saving the planet or other causes and issues? Seek volunteer opportunities at charitable organizations and grassroots events.
4. Walk your dog. If you are able, caring for a pet will not only provide loving companionship at home but will afford you the chance to meet other people who adore their own furry family members. You’ll almost certainly encounter fellow pet owners when walking your dog.
And if you’re truly crazy about animals, volunteer at a shelter where you’ll not only be doing good but will also meet like-minded humans.