How Going with the Flow May Decrease Loneliness

Free Time Sounds Good—But Is It?

Free time is something we often consider a holy grail of sorts. However, research shows that free time may actually increase loneliness.

A new Penn State study demonstrated that when people engage in meaningful, challenging activities during free time, it reduces loneliness and increases positive feelings. The key is to go with the flow.

What Exactly Is Going with the Flow?

The flow is many things, but mostly it depends on the individual. The question to ask yourself is what types of activities are you interested in? What engaging project might make you happier?

Most loneliness results from a disconnection with the world. Watching television is a popular pastime, but it doesn’t quell loneliness and may also intensify feelings of depression.

Engaging in relaxing yet productive activities may prove to be a meditative way to create a positive flow. For most adults, it’s important to start your day with a positive ritual, like allowing extra time to get ready for your day. Think about projects you’ve been putting off that may need some attention, such as organizing your closets, ironing, browsing recipes to preplan meals, rearranging furniture or reading a new book are examples of such activities.

Another way to help connect with the world is through creativity. Creative activities—such as making a collage, writing in a journal, cooking, knitting or crocheting, making jewelry, or even singing—can create positive feelings that help douse that loneliness or isolation.

“Coming to terms with how much connection you need is key to staving off loneliness. If all you need is an hour of chatting with a friend, great. If you need three hours a day, maybe connecting with several friends a day would be better. Check-in with yourself to see what is in your best interest and find activities, like on meetup.com, to alleviate the loneliness pandemic.” 

Rebecca Sultan, MA, LMFT, LCADC – Manager of EAP Services, Behavioral Healthcare Options, Inc.
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Break Up Your Routine

There are ways to break the routine of being at home alone with time on your hands. Try taking a drive to another neighborhood or, if you live in a city, find an area downtown to stop for coffee or lunch. Museums are a great way to spend free time and learn about history and art. Joining special classes or groups, either online or in person, is a great way to meet new people and learn new skills.

Try mixing up your work environment. For example, if you’re working from home, try moving your work area to a new location at least once or twice a week, such as a local coffee shop, diner or even the park. With more companies implementing a hybrid workforce, working from an off-site location has become the norm.

Isolation in Older Adults

Over the last couple of years, it has become increasingly evident that older individuals are our most vulnerable population when it comes to loneliness.

Research shows that older adults suffer the most from loneliness because isolation increases their risk for memory loss and may contribute to both mental and physical health issues.

If you have an older friend or relative, it is important to watch for key signs that indicate depression, including:

  • Loss of interest in things they used to enjoy
  • Unable to keep up with their housework or yard
  • Weight loss
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Skipping showers
  • Forgetting to take medication
  • Missed bills
  • Loss of desire to participate in holidays or other special events
  • Distanced from communities they used to be a part of

Helping Seniors Find Their Flow

Your elderly loved ones may find that engaging in stimulating activities helps them reconnect and improve their memory.

Activities may be as simple as flipping through photo albums or a cookbook, coloring or listening to classical music. Or it could be something more complex, like working on a crossword puzzle, diving into a book or even learning a new language.

Regardless, your older friend or relative needs your help in feeling loved and included.

What about the Children?

Children have their own ways of coping with loneliness, and helping them find their own flow is crucial to keeping them engaged with the world.

Loneliness is particularly tough on children. Compared with adults, kids tend to have a harder time communicating their feelings.

Social distancing and long periods of separation from their peers have prevented kids from socializing during an important period of growth and social development. And in this situation, kids are unable to rely on the usual coping strategies, such as visiting with friends.

Trying Some New Activities May Help

Now’s the time to incorporate new activities into your child’s daily structure. Children might find their flow by reading, biking, creating music, making movies, baking, dressing up, drawing, writing, planting a garden or building something special. Encourage your child’s unique creativity. You might be surprised!

To motivate your child, consider organizing a talent show on a videoconferencing platform. Invite family or your child’s friends. Older kids might enjoy researching a topic they are passionate about and sharing what they’ve learned with friends.

The magic of going with the flow is that there is an unlimited number of ways to find your passion and go freely with it. Thinking creatively, spontaneously, and practically may generate new ideas to find your flow and, as a result, a more fulfilling life.

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