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Over 46% of U.S. adults feel lonely and social isolation is considerably higher in the winter months

Originally published January 24, 2020 on thriveglobal.com

Many of my clients complain of feelings of loneliness, isolation and sadness as the darkest, coldest months of winter hit. There are numerous reasons why. A recent report found many Americans are lonely, and younger adults appear to be the hardest hit. The study, published by the global health service company Cigna, (5/3/2018) found that 46 percent of U.S. adults report sometimes or always feeling lonely and 47 percent report feeling left out. January is considered the Most Depressing Month of the Year. January 24 is on record as being the most depressing day of the year. In 2017, the BBC News reported that loneliness has a devastating and life-threatening impact on people of all ages. For vulnerable groups, social isolation combined with the health dangers of colder weather is a lethal combination.

Statistics aside, a deeper part of the problem is that, unlike animals, human beings are not meant to hibernate for lengthy periods of time. We still need fresh air, human contact, and whatever amounts of sun we can grab as well as exercise. During the winter months, many of my clients also complain of sleep disturbance. One of the contributing causes for this is related to a severely reduced activity level whereby the body is not tired enough to sleep. As a result, at the end of a day, our typical or normal sleep cycles are disrupted.

Learn how to identify these key symptoms that you are suffering from a bout of winter blues:

  • Increased feelings of loneliness
  • Disrupted sleep cycle (difficulty falling asleep or staying in bed too long).
  • Depressed mood
  • Feelings of anxiety or defeat when getting ready for the day

Hopefully, we’ll all survive the dread of January.

Here are some suggestions to help you get through rest of the winter season:

Get fresh air!

No matter how hard it is to get out of your house even on the coldest days, do it! Fresh air is critical. Run a few errands even if it means all you’re doing is getting in and out of the car. Any fresh air is better than stagnating in the recirculated house air all day. Alternatively, a brisk walk up and down the block has the same effect. You can wear cozy and warm clothes, just take the time to get out. You can still get Vitamin D from the sun even in the winter.

Maintain human contact:

The more you stay in, the less varied socialization you’ll experience, and humans are social beings. In the summer months, we’re out and about. We should still have that in the winter.

Even if you’re not making plans, you can be around other people at movie theaters, museums, malls, gyms etc. Exercising is always a positive mood-changer but engaging in it out of your house in the winter, is much better! This applies to movie watching as well. It’s much more beneficial to your mood state if you get out of your house. Being around people helps break up the monotony of hibernating.

Avoid increasing your social media usage:

Numerous studies have verified the damaging impact of over usage of social media. If you allow yourself to become a couch potato or lay in bed for extended periods, you’ll inherently risk increasing your social media usage. This can potentially lead to further feelings of depression and anxiety. It may seem like others are out and about (the operative word is, “seem”) further compounding feelings of loneliness. Limit or eliminate social media use and find other productive uses of your time.

Take the time to reach out to people:

Making plans is not always in our control because it’s dependent on other people’s availability. However, I encourage people to be the pursuer. Take charge and try to make plans. If it works out, it will give you more time to get out of the house. If it doesn’t, trying to make the plans was also a distraction. Don’t measure inability to execute plans as rejection. We can’t control other people. We can only control ourselves. Take it in stride. Give yourself an A+ for trying and move on.

Whatever you do, remember we’re humans, not bears.  Be creative and figure out ways to get out and be around people as often as possible. Enjoy any warm and sunny days that comes our way before winter ends on March 21, unless the groundhog predicts otherwise.