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12 Ways to Avoid Loneliness

U.S. surgeon general offers advice and a call to action


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Humans are social beings, wired to connect with others. Having strong social connections is every bit as important as diet and exercise for health and well-being. But these ties have weakened over the past two decades, as U.S. adults spend less time with friends and family and more time alone, and about half experience loneliness. This is bad news for our health, according to the surgeon general’s 2023 advisory “Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation.”

Chronic loneliness and social isolation can increase the risk of developing dementia by approximately 50 percent in older adults, even after controlling for demographics and health status, the advisory states. A lack of connections also increases risk of heart disease and stroke. U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, M.D., calls on governments, workplaces, health care systems and community organizations to help people build connections and community in their lives. His report also offers a dozen ways people can take action themselves to strengthen relationships and expand their social networks. Here’s the list, edited for brevity.

  1. Understand the power of social connection and the consequences of social disconnection. Learn how three vital components of your social life — structure, function and quality — can impact your relationships, health and well-being.

  2. Invest time in nurturing your relationships through consistent, frequent and high-quality engagement with others. Each day, reach out to a friend or family member.

  3. Minimize distraction during conversations to improve the quality of time you spend with others. For instance, don’t check your phone during meals with friends or during family time.

  4. Seek opportunities to serve and support others. You can help family members, coworkers, friends or strangers in your community through community service.

  5. Be responsive, supportive and practice gratitude. When you do so, others may reciprocate and you can strengthen social bonds, improve relationship satisfaction and build social capital.

  6. Actively engage with people of different backgrounds and experiences to expand your understanding and relationships with a wider circle of people.

  7. Participate in social and community groups. Choose among fitness, religious, hobby, professional and community service organizations to foster a sense of belonging, meaning and purpose.

  8. Reduce practices that lead to feelings of disconnection from others. Avoid harmful and excessive social media use, time spent in unhealthy relationships and disproportionate time in front of screens instead of people.

  9. Seek help during times of struggle. If you’re feeling lonely or isolated, reach out to a family member, friend, counselor, health care provider or the 988 crisis line.

  10. Be open with your health care provider about big social changes in your life. It may help them understand potential health impacts and guide them to provide recommendations for you to reduce health risks.

  11. Make time for civic engagement. This could include being a positive and constructive participant in political discourse and gatherings (e.g., town halls, school board meetings, local government hearings).

  12. Reflect the core values of connection. During interactions with others, ask yourself: How might kindness change the situation? What would it look like to treat others with respect? How can I be of service? How can I reflect my concern for and commitment to others?

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