Social Distancing and Loneliness: Help Reap the Benefits of Mindfulness

By Sandra Crews, Western Regional Health Strategies Consultant for UnitedHealthcare ~

As we navigate this unprecedented time as a country and across the globe, finding simple and effective ways to ease our minds may make a big difference.

Sandra Crews

Sandra Crews

Maybe you know someone who takes five minutes each morning to meditate or finds time after lunch to quiet his or her mind and focus on breathing. Whatever the method may be, incorporating “mindfulness” practices into your daily routine may have positive health benefits like reducing feelings of loneliness and stress, improving your memory, sleep and immune system and increasing compassion toward others and yourself.   

Simply put, mindfulness means taking time to pay attention to yourself plus your thoughts and feelings. Read on to learn how you may be able to put mindfulness into practice in your own life to help improve your health.

How to make mindfulness a routine part of your day

  1. Find 5 to 10 minutes each day to sit quietly and focus on your breath. (Helpful hint: Put your phone on silent or in another room so you can concentrate.) Take the time to notice where your mind goes and how your body is feeling. You just might find that this helps you focus and prioritize your day.  
  2. Before you go to bed take time to focus on the good things that happened that day. Write your positive thoughts down in a journal. Writing them down can help you deliberately recognize the positive, even on a tough day.
  3. Search for “mindfulness apps” on your smartphone or tablet that can help lead you into a mindfulness exercise. For many people, using an app is an easier way to remain consistent with the practice. And good news: many of these apps are at no additional cost!

Feeling lonely? Mindfulness may help

It might be surprising to learn that mindfulness has been shown to help older adults overcome an urgent health issue: loneliness. It has been estimated that more than half of adults age 65 and over experience moderate to severe loneliness. But as most of the globe has been urged to practice physical distancing to help limit the spread of COVID-19, the incidence of loneliness is almost certain to rise.

Loneliness is characterized by a marked difference between someone’s desired companionship and actual relationships. Through unique studies conducted by UnitedHealthcare and AARP, researchers have applied the techniques of mindfulness, to help combat loneliness in older adults.

“Social isolation and loneliness are serious yet underappreciated public health risks that may affect a significant portion of the older adult population – and we are seeing this come into greater focus around the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Charlotte Yeh, M.D., chief medical officer, AARP Services, Inc. “That is why UnitedHealthcare and AARP Services, Inc. are collaborating to identify actionable solutions, geared for individuals across the spectrum of loneliness.”

Researchers looked at whether mindfulness interventions, like breath awareness, self-compassion and kindness exercises, might positively impact a person’s optimism and quality of life – factors that help reduce loneliness.

Conclusions were encouraging: Mindfulness activities were shown to help decrease loneliness among older adults, and the research demonstrated mindfulness may help to reduce stress, improved memory, sleep, immune system, resiliency and compassion for yourself and others.

Although loneliness may be complex and challenging to address – especially in today’s unique and uncertain times – a mindfulness practice may bring comfort.

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