Colorado Senior Counseling Blog

by Dr. Karen Midyet

Aging Alone: Coping with Loneliness

Loneliness is a serious problem, especially among older adults. When you?ve outlived some of your closest loved ones, you miss the emotional support, friendship, and companionship that you once enjoyed on a daily basis.

You have endured a lot in your life. If loneliness is robbing you of your happiness today, it?s just one more thing you need to overcome.

While there?s no formula or procedure you can follow to beat loneliness, you want to take steps to create an atmosphere in which you can spend time enjoying the company of others.

You have to take action. Of course, like anything worthwhile, it?s going to take some effort. It?ll be worth it, though.

After all, what more important thing do you have to do with your time than find ways to enrich your life?

Keep up with family and friends

Reach out to your kids, or your kids? kids. Or your brother?s or sister?s kids. Or your cousins, regardless of how many times removed. Stay abreast of their activities and attend their school or social events if you can. Celebrate their accomplishments with them.

If you?re not internet savvy, see if you can find someone to help you use social media to find and connect with people you haven?t heard from in years. Probably any kid you know can help.

Or look through your latest high school class reunion mementos. Try to re-connect with those you grew up with. Sharing memories with people you remember from days gone by gives you a chance to refresh your memory. It?s heartening.

Go surfing

Once on the internet, you might enjoy just poking around. There are millions of interesting images to see, stories to enjoy, games to play, and groups to join. It really is a great source of entertainment and a way to keep current with news, friends, and family.

While it?s true that the internet is home to many clever crooks and scammers, don?t let that stop you. You can surf safely. There are many resources to guide you past the trouble spots.

Generally speaking, be very careful about providing any kind of personal information to anyone you meet on the internet.  This includes your full name, address, phone number, bank account numbers, social security number, etc.

Reach out to new friends

Making new connections in a world of busy, scheduled people can be hard for anyone. The best thing you can do is to make yourself available. When the opportunity to introduce yourself comes along, do it.

Ask new acquaintances something about themselves and share something about yourself. See if you have something in common that might warrant another meeting or a visit.

Maybe they play Cribbage or Scrabble (or whatever game you enjoy). Or they like to go fishing or mushroom hunting or bird watching. You never know.

Volunteer

Not only does volunteering put you in a position to meet people, you might find gratification in helping others in ways you might not have considered. Many organizations need volunteers.

Organizations like AARP, Senior Corps, and SCORE specialize in matching the skills sets of retired people to vacancies where they are needed.

How about a pet shelter? While of course bonding with humans is a great way to combat loneliness, for some people, bonding with animals can be every bit as effective.

Lots of animal shelters look for volunteers to do a variety of tasks, including ?desensitizing??which is touching and petting and bonding with a dog or a cat until it?s comfortable being touched.

Of course, one very real danger of volunteering at a pet shelter is that you?ll come home with a dog or a cat. There?s something therapeutic about a purring cat perched on your chest . . .

Life Without Structure: Adjusting to Retirement

  

If you have recently retired, you might encounter a problem you didn?t expect. Finding things to do was never a problem when your days were consumed by work. You planned to do things before work or after work or on weekends or vacations. The time allotted for leisure activities were framed by a work schedule.

When work is taken out of the daily equation, you might be left wondering what to do with all of the time on your hands. After decades of getting up in the morning, going to work for the day, and then coming home, it?s often hard for a new retiree to deal with not having a schedule or a routine anymore.

Life?s major events often require emotional adjustment: marriages, divorces, the passing of loved ones. It?s an ongoing adjustment needed to maintain a healthy perspective on life and to live happily ever after.

Assuming you?ve planned your retirement, have the resources to enjoy your time, and have already said your goodbyes to your workplace and co-workers, the next step is figuring out what to do with your freedom.

Retirement?s Honeymoon Period

The first few weeks and months might be easy. You do all those things you promised yourself that you would do once you stopped working. You take a vacation abroad, you visit relatives, you engage in hobbies, you meet with friends for coffee or meals or just to keep good company.

After the honeymoon period with retirement, the allure might wear off. What seems like an endless vacation can also bring boredom, low spirits, feelings of worthlessness or uselessness, and disenchantment with retirement.

Reinvent yourself

It?s common for people to define or identify themselves with what they do for a living. When you were working, you had an answer to the common introductory question, ?What do you do?? Now that you?re retired, you might ask yourself, ?Now who am I?? Of course, there is nothing wrong with the response, ?I?m retired now, I used to . . .? It still provides the same basis for introductory conversations, it gives the inquirer an idea of your background, expertise, and perspective.

You?ll find that your years of experience are transferable and much of what you know would be useful to others if you shared it. Find an outlet to provide others with whatever you have to give, most notably your time.

Create a new routine

Find a blank calendar and begin to schedule activities for yourself. If you like reading, consider joining a book club. If you like cooking, join a pot luck club. Do you like to shoot pool? How about a pool league? Write club events on your calendar and make a point to attend.

Consider volunteering. Many opportunities are available:

  • Have you ever heard of SCORE? It?s a valuable network of volunteers (mostly retirees) who offer their expertise to upcoming businesses free of charge. SCORE provides an excellent outlet for retirees to share their expertise with those who need it.
  • The American Red Cross is always looking for volunteers with a variety of skills and availabilities.
  • Mentor or tutor kids or adults who need help with learning English or Math or something else that you know about.
  • Volunteer at your local library 
  • Become a RSVP volunteer:  RSVP is one of the largest volunteer networks in the nation for  people 55 and over.  http://www.nationalservice.gov/programs/senior-corps/rsvp 

Some events you schedule might be a daily routine that require no entries on the calendar. For example, meet some friends for coffee or tea every morning. Play some cards to have a little fun everyday: Cribbage, Euchre, Spades, Hearts . . . Bridge, anyone? Or how about Scrabble? Consider establishing some kind of ?daily games? routine.

Retirement Does Not Mean You Can't Work

Some people miss the world of work.  Consider a lower stress part time job in an area that interests you.  It could be "working for your children" watching your grandchildren, or as a receptionist at a Senior Center. Spending time with people can help you transition.

Educate yourself !

Find something that is going to challenge your mind.  Research shows that learning a new language exercises your brain. Take a creative writing course at a community college.  If you use a computer,  online classes are available where you can learn at your own pace.

It?s important to keep yourself and your mind alert. Be active. Leave the house, if you can, at least once a day. Fill your calendar to keep yourself active doing things you enjoy. Be careful not to over-schedule yourself, though. You?ve earned the right to rest and relax, too.

What activities have you found helped you transition into retirement?

Life Transition: Evaluating Your Life Following Retirement

Congratulations! You've reached that stage in life that you never thought you would. And now you're there: RETIREMENT. Yet, there's a lot of life yet. So, now what?

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