WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – If you have ever felt lonely, know that you’re not alone. Military deployments, living far from family or going through a divorce are common reasons to feel lonely.
Loneliness is a universal emotion that does not discriminate. It can affect people of all ages and backgrounds, from small towns to big cities. The concept of loneliness does not necessarily imply that a person is actually alone, but is rather a subjective feeling or perception of being alone, isolated or disconnected from others. For example, military personnel might feel lonely after being deployed to a foreign country, despite being constantly surrounded by other military members. One can be married or seemingly have many friends and acquaintances yet still feel disconnected from them.
Loneliness is becoming a significant public health concern in the United States. Feelings of loneliness may affect everyone at some point, but persistent loneliness can become a serious problem that damages physical health and shortens lifespan. Loneliness causes stress, and long-term or chronic stress is linked to higher levels of inflammation in the body. So when you feel disconnected from other people, repeatedly activating the stress response can take a physical toll on the body resulting in damage to blood vessels and other tissues. This tissue damage increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes and premature death.
If you or someone you know struggles with loneliness, it can be overcome. It does require a conscious effort on your part to make a change. Making a change can make you happier, healthier and enable you to impact others around you in a positive way.
Here are some strategies to help prevent and address loneliness:
Seek out like-minded people. Put yourself in social situations where you are likely to interact with people who share your values and interests.
Interact with family/friends. Make it a point to have meaningful conversations with loved ones/friends as often as possible. Avoid prioritizing activities in life at the cost of real social connections.
Consider a social media cleanse. If your digital life has overtaken face-to-face interactions, consider taking a break from social media while taking proactive steps to meet people in person. You can have hundreds of connections on Facebook or LinkedIn and still be lonely.
Exercise with others. Participating in fitness classes, walking groups or team sports will create opportunities to meet people while improving your physical fitness.
Be aware of how you communicate with others. Soften your tendency to criticize and shame people. Avoid stonewalling and defensive behaviors.
Consider professional help. If the symptoms of loneliness are severe or are interfering with daily activities, don’t be afraid to ask for professional help.
Support resources to help cope with loneliness are available for the Air Force Materiel Command workforce and their families through the Employee Assistance Program and Military OneSource.
Civilian employees and their family members may contact the Employee Assistance Program for free, confidential counseling services at 800-222-0364 or visit the EAP website at FOH4You.com.
Active-duty personnel and their family members can contact Military OneSource by calling 800-342-9647 or visiting militaryonesource.mil.
For educational materials on how to deal with loneliness, visit AFMCwellness.com, or contact your local Civilian Health Promotion Services team.