I see the effects of loneliness all the time.
When you work with seniors it’s almost a given.
I facilitate wellness workshops for older adults living in retirement communities. Loneliness and depression are regular topics of conversation. However, it is important to note that seniors are not the only demographic of concern when it comes to loneliness. According to a recent CBC News report, 28% of Canadians are living alone. Singles are now the most common type of household in the country meaning that people of all ages are grappling with the effects of loneliness. According to the same report, Britain recently appointed a minister to address the increasing number of people who identify as lonely. Canada has no such strategy.
With this in mind here are some general guidelines for addressing loneliness with your clients:
- Recognize the distinction between isolated and lonely.
While an isolated client is more likely to feel lonely, do not ignore those who appear gregarious. The seniors I work with live with their peers and are surrounded by staff. The same can be said for undergraduates living on campus and we all know the high statistics surrounding depression and suicide risk for these young adults. Retirees and students alike may stay in their rooms, eat by themselves, and show up to activities without participating or opt out altogether. They may feel out of place and socially anxious when they do attend events and as a consequence feel even lonelier in the group than on their own. In other words, counsellors must continue to be mindful of the symptoms of loneliness even when a client appears sociable.
- Be mindful of the common signs of and risks for loneliness.
- Increased physical aches or pains
- Worsening of mental or physical health conditions.
- Low energy or lack of motivation.
- Difficulty Sleeping.
- Loss or increase in appetite and sudden weight loss or gain.
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs, prescription or otherwise.
- Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, or thoughts of suicide.
- Lacking purpose or meaning in life.
- Keeping to oneself even in social situations.
- Difficulty meeting new people and feeling like you don’t belong.
- Declining social invitations.
- Experiencing a major life transition such as moving, retirement, job loss or new employment.
- Grieving the loss of a spouse, partner, or loved one due to death or relocation.
- Difficulty participating in social activities due to financial limitations, illness, mobility issues, or difficulty accessing transportation.
- Living alone or lack of close family connections.
- Poor physical or mental health.
- Language or cognitive barriers.
- Withdrawal from culture or community.
- Help your clients pinpoint times when they feel most worthy.
Some examples may include connecting with cultural centres or programs, volunteering for a purposeful cause, speaking with their community to suggest an activity of interest or lead it themselves, and finding a positive solo activity. Collaborate with your client to develop an action plan that organizes these activities into specific goals with deadlines.
- Address loneliness through gratitude, compassion, and mindfulness.
The practice of Mindfulness has been shown to decrease anxiety, increase ones sense of gratitude, and develop compassionate cognitions towards the self and others – all of which are linked with declines in loneliness. There are several Mindful Self-Compassion exercises clients can practice as solo activities. Some of these include guided loving-kindness meditations, developing their own mantra, hugging themselves while visualizing a friend, and cognitive behavioural tasks where the client converts negative self-talk into compassionate statements.
Overall, it is important for counsellors to be mindful of loneliness regardless of their clients’ age or lifestyle. Remember, you can feel even lonelier standing in a crowd than you can sitting alone on the couch.
Alexandra Trottier is a Canadian Certified Counsellor facilitating wellness workshops for older adults living in retirement homes. She can be contacted at AlexandraTrottierWorkshops.com
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA