It’s normal. We’ve all felt lonely from time to time—it’s simply part of the human experience.
But, even though it’s normal doesn’t mean we should perpetually wallow in those feelings.
When have you felt the most lonely?
Was it when you lost a loved one? Or when you were excluded from a group activity? Or, like many of us, do feelings of loneliness creep up like weeds—out of nowhere.
The trouble is that loneliness, like weeds, has potential to wreak havoc on the health of our souls and relationships if we aren’t actively tending to, pruning, and nurturing the health of our hearts and minds.
There is good news, my friend! There is one tangible action you can take to prevent feelings of loneliness.
This week we’ll unpack the science behind loneliness and share some practical ways to build a meaningful, fruitful, and genuine network where loneliness will wither away.
THE SCIENCE OF LONELINESS
As we’ve talked about a lot here at Contact Mapping—loneliness is a real epidemic in today’s society. Loneliness leads to feelings of depression, anxiety, and decreased self-esteem.
As researchers searched for the antidote to the feelings of loneliness, it turns out there is one simple action all humans can take to combat these unhappy feelings: Volunteer.
That’s right, it turns out the volunteer hours you logged in high school or in scouts or in honor society as a mandatory requirement, weren’t intended as drudgery—they were actually a healthy habit worth nurturing in your life.
In a study out of the UK, scientists surveyed 10,000 people and found that two-thirds of the participants said that volunteering “helped them feel less isolated.”
In the U.S., researchers studied some of the most justifiably lonely people—a group of 6,000 widows. Before the study, these women understandably reported high levels of loneliness. However, over time, the widows began volunteering just two hours a week and at the conclusion of the study, the majority of women reported the same level of loneliness as married adults.
So how does volunteering curb those lonely feelings? It does so in 3 ways:
It builds relationships: While that’s incredibly obvious, it’s not to be discounted. The continual act of putting yourself out there to make connections with others—both other volunteers and those you’re serving—will allow you to develop stronger bonds and curb the feelings of loneliness.
It gives you purpose: We all have an innate desire to belong and feel significant. When we volunteer, we begin to feel like our life has more meaning and value which is the perfect antidote to loneliness.
It increases your cognitive capabilities: Studies show that people who live in isolation face cognitive decline at a faster rate than those who engage in neurally stimulating activities with others. Volunteering is the perfect way to keep your brain firing on all cylinders and ward off the nasty feelings of loneliness.
TIPS AND TRICKS
So what does volunteering look like these days? If you’re like most of us, you imagine soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and food banks. While serving at each of those places is worthwhile and important, there are innumerable ways we can volunteer and serve others.
Here’s our short list of creative ways to serve in your community and beyond:
Want something local? Partner with an organization on Volunteer Match. You type in your location and they will generate a list of opportunities in your area. You can search by interest—Children, Education, Animals, Health, etc. This is a great place to start for some local opportunities.
Have professional skills and want to travel? Check out the Skillanthropist opportunites at Bpeace. Bpeace works with entrepreneurs in developing countries and pairs them with successful business mentors to help them improve their current business model.
Want to work outside? Go hiking with Volunteer Vacations and perform trail maintenance and other types of service work while enjoying the outdoors.
Love animals? Serve as a temporary foster home for a cat or dog in need. You can contact your local humane society to find the nearest pet fostering agency near you.
Want to help children? Become a CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocate). CASA’s serve children in foster care by advocating for the best interest of a child. They act as the liaison between a child and the court system. Click here to find a local CASA agency near you.
Do you have a skill? Literally ANY skill? Give it away for FREE. Offer up pro bono work, share your wealth of information with people who need it without any hope or expectation of payment. Give your time and knowledge out like candy on Halloween and you’ll be amazed at the internal satisfaction you receive.
Don’t believe me? Just check out this article where Jason Cole shares what he learned after a year of giving away his time, knowledge, and energy (free of charge!) to help others.
Want to hear how other business professionals volunteer their time and curb those lonely feelings? Jump into our Facebook group and ask! Many of our community members are volunteers and would love to share their experiences.
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