MIDLAND — Loneliness is a serious problem that can affect the physical and mental health of many seniors. During the COVID-19 pandemic, community members have faced increased social isolation, according to officials at MyMichigan Health.
As communities begin to return to social gatherings, many may still feel hesitant or feel comfortable being alone. To help seniors struggling with loneliness, MyMichigan Health is offering a free, five-week virtual series focusing on loneliness and social connections called “Bridge to Belonging.” The program will take place on Tuesdays, starting November 15, and will run from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., via Zoom.
“Humans are, by nature, social creatures,” said Meghan Dahl, behavioral health supervisor at MyMichigan Medical Center Midland. “While some people may choose not to be with people and accept that decision, others may feel alone. Some are disconnected over the loss of a spouse, or some retire and lose the social support they had at work Loneliness is a real problem that should not be ignored.
Additionally, according to Dahl, social isolation and loneliness have also been linked to several negative health effects, including cognitive decline, depression, and even heart disease.
“Loneliness is worse for your health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day,” Dahl continued. “It can be just as harmful to your health as obesity and lack of exercise. When we think of a person’s health, we often hear recommendations to quit smoking, eat well, and exercise.
“However, we don’t always target loneliness as a health issue. Fortunately, there are many strategies one can learn and practice to lessen feelings of loneliness and help to feel more connected and positive about life. The Bridge to Belonging program will help explore these questions.
During the five-week program, several topics will be covered, including:
• Increase positive behaviors
• Address negative thoughts
• Challenge social anxiety
• Relaxation strategies
• And how to put these ideas into practice while adapting to post-COVID-19 lifestyle changes
The program is open to anyone interested in learning more about tackling loneliness, whether for themselves or a loved one. All program materials and login information will be mailed to registrants prior to the first meeting. Participants will join the Zoom meeting from their smartphone, computer, tablet or other device with an internet connection. Participants can also listen to the session using their phone.
Registration is mandatory for this free program and is open until Friday, November 11. Those interested in registering can do so at www.mymichigan.org/bridge. Those who need help enrolling can call MyMichigan Health Line toll-free at (800) 999-3199.