By Shelley Widhalm for LONGMONT MAGAZINE
Making friends as an adult can prove difficult, especially for those who work at home or become absorbed in social media and gaining Likes and Shares, trading in three-dimensional life for virtual relationships.
Statistics show that a high number of adults face what is called the “loneliness epidemic,” where they feel lonely, lack companionship or are isolated. A 2018 survey from “The Economist” and the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 22% of American adults are lonely and isolated, while a 2018 survey from the Cigna health insurance company shows that 46% of Americans feel alone, 47% feel left out and 54% believe that no one knows them well.
In her practice, Dr. Jessica Walker, a family medicine physician at UCHealth Longmont, sees two things occurring with the patients she sees—subjective feelings of loneliness from a lack of social connection and social isolation from living alone without a lot of social contact, especially common in older adults.
“I try to tell folks that the physical and mental consequences are greater than we think for both loneliness and social isolation,” Walker said.
Research indicates that those consequences can include depression, anxiety, high blood pressure and chronic inflammation trigged by cellular change, potentially leading to heart disease, stroke and Alzheimer’s disease. Alternatively, studies show that those with a good social support system have better self-esteem and coping skills.
Who is lonely? Single adults living alone? Older adults? Telecommuters? Entrepreneurs?
Try Out Coworking and Maker Spaces
“The opposite of loneliness is community, maybe that’s one way to look at it,” said Dixon Dick, cofounder and co-executive director of CoSolve Coworking, a coworking space that opened in Longmont in 2016, and cofounder of TinkerMill, a maker space, also in Longmont. “When you’re lonely, do you have friends? Do you have communities of people that have similar interests?”
Coworking and maker spacers forge groups—coworking brings together telecommuters and entrepreneurs into an office setting where they can problem- or co-solve and connect to community resources, while maker spaces offer a place for creatives and hobbyists to access 3D printers and expensive equipment and machinery.
Initially, the creatives came to TinkerMill to share the available resources, but they soon formed interest groups and Meetups that became more social, Dick said, adding that he’s seen Meetups also come out of coworking spaces, as well as the events there that are open to the public.
The two types of spaces can address loneliness in an era when people are not engaging in interpersonal activities where they can see “full body acting,” or the full range of expressions, gestures and emotions, Dick said.
“People are somehow falling into loneliness without realizing it,” Dick said. “Online friendship is not the same thing as seeing someone in the flesh (where) all of you is there. … Social media might be separating us, but it also is used to create communities where you physically can go.”
Facebook users use the platform to create groups and facilitate meeting in public, and a number of “friendship” apps work like online dating by giving people a way to get out and make friends. They include Meetups for local interest-based get-togethers, Atleto for sporting interests and Bumble BFF and Tinder Social as a way to find others looking for friends.
Head to the Library for Options
Going to the local library is another way to meet people, as is joining a club or group, such as a book club, Moms group or a group focused on learning a language, writing, quilting, running, walking or doing yoga. The idea is to find a hobby or interest and meet potential friends through the shared experiences.
“We are a really good vehicle for combating loneliness,” said Teresa Myers, coordinator of marketing and communications for the Longmont Public Library. “We have an awful lot of programs for adults.”
The library offers a bimonthly book group that meets at two different times, one during the day and the second in the evening, and each group picks its own fiction and nonfiction books. A new nonfiction book group, Read for Your Health, will start up in January and meet every other month to focus on health-related issues.
Another group, ThriftU, engages in different crafts each month, using upcycled thrift store finds to do the creating, not requiring any specific crafting skills. There’s also the Longmont Ukulele Club, Anime-niacs: Anime Club for Adults, Genealogy Basics with the Longmont Genealogy Society and a writers group that all meet at the library.
“There’s lots of chatting going on, so people can get to know each other,” Myers said. “It’s face to face, so you can get to know other people.”
The library’s Books & Brews program goes off-site to local brew pubs, and those participating need to be at least 21. Mostly consisting of millennials and Generation Xers, the group discusses books and book trivia over a beer, led by a librarian.
The library also has Thursday night adult programs that bring in authors, musicians and speakers on a variety of subjects from history to politics.
“One of the other things that we see a lot of here, we have people who come here, particularly older folks, they come in here every day, look at the computer, read the newspaper—it’s part of their routine. It’s their chance to get out and interact,” Myers said.
Or Try the Senior Center
For older adults, the Longmont Senior Center offers a long list of programs that includes lifelong learning classes on a variety of subjects from art to computers and drop-in programs, groups and clubs that meet around common interests. There also are exercise and fitness programs, dances, day trips, extended and international trips, lunch programs and volunteer opportunities. Every quarter, the senior center publishes a 60-page catalog, “The Go: Class & Trip Registration Community & Special Events Resource Guide,” that details the offerings.
“There is such a variety that hopefully most folks can find something that connects with them,” said Michele Waite, manager of senior services at the Longmont Senior Center, which tallies an average of 10,000 visits a month.
Resource specialists at the senior center can provide information on services such as the Respite Companion Volunteer Program for in-home friendly visits, transportation options and home delivery programs such as Meals on Wheels and library books that includes companionship.
Brandy Queen, senior counselor and senior resource education coordinator at the senior center, points out the difference between loneliness and isolation. Loneliness isn’t something that is chosen but can become the result of losing a partner, family members being absent or far away, having health problems and friends falling out, passing on or moving, she said.
“A lot of our older adults identified from conversations sometimes choose to be alone and like that,” Queen said, adding that for others, “it is an isolation that is not chosen. They want to have connections in their life that they do not have.”
Older adults may not have a natural network in place, such as from school, a job or being part of a group in their community, Queen said. They can build a network by going to a recreation or senior center to learn about the local offerings and to start meeting people, though it can take more effort, she said.
“If they want to get out and about, it’s about checking out activities that feel comfortable to them,” Waite said.
Queen advises taking baby steps by picking one or two activities and not immediately building a full social calendar every day of the week. After the activities become comfortable, more can be added, she said.
The activities are a way to reach out, though Queen hears a common complaint that people already have full lives and do not have time for new friends, she said. Her advice is to try a second time by suggesting something else at another time or with another person.
“Don’t take it personally,” Queen said. “There are a lot of people open to making new friends.”
Waite and the staff at the senior center have seen many relationships develop there, she said.
“It’s possible for folks who are willing to invest themselves. … That’s true at any age,” Waite said. “It’s about taking that step and trying oftentimes more than once to reach out and find people with common ideas, common interests and common values.”
Walker recommends getting some form of exercise for the physical and mental health benefits and finding a hobby to get out of the house and keep the mind busy and body moving. Other ways to reach out include writing a letter, making a phone call and asking friends and family for help if needed, finding that many are willing to do so, she said.
“There is the old adage that as soon as you go out and are active, you always feel better when you complete it,” Walker said. “Pushing yourself is not the easiest thing to do, but in the end, it’s rewarding.”