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The Loneliness Epidemic: Strategies for Thriving in Alaska's Winter

Posted by Barbara DuBois | Feb 14, 2024 1:35:23 PM

     Let’s be real. Winter is hard in Alaska. It may pose opportunities to do sports outside that we otherwise would not do such as skating, hockey, snowboarding, skiing, cross country skiing, skate skiing, but it is still hard. The ice, the cold, the darkness, the sense of being boxed in-otherwise known as cabin fever, the feeling of isolation all means we need to try harder to do what we need to do to stay happy and healthy.

     The long hours of darkness means people feel a sense a urgency to get things done before the confines of shortened daylight sets in. It also means more screen time and less face-to-face time in social settings. The U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murphy noted that loneliness presents health risks every bit as deleterious as smoking and sedentary living. In fact, loneliness has repercussions that are as impactful as heart disease, stroke, and dementia. We all know people who live like this. They have no immediate family members around, are single, divorced, never wed, widowed. We are social creatures and as Barbra Streisand crooned in her song, “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” Loneliness can also be a state of mind. A person can be in the midst of a social setting such as a party and feel a tremendous sense of hollowness and isolation.

     What can help a person surmount that sense of isolation and loneliness? Interestingly enough, the presence or absence of people is not the problem. The cure is manifold. Doing something with other people where there is a common interest is absorbing enough to dissipate the sense of loneliness. This very act of being involved in something that likewise attracts the attention of other people as well creates a bond, a sense of being part of a communal activity. Being in the weight room or the cardio room can dissolve that loneliness as everyone there has a common goal that they are working towards, even if the people are not engaged in discussion. Everyone is trying to get fit and improve their overall sense of well-being. Little side chit chats while walking the track instantly elevates one’s mood. Being in a book reading club can lead to lively discussions. I enjoy chit chatting with my lady friends at the Alaska Club pool every morning. We joke. We discuss relationships. We compliment each other. The happy banter is as important as the swimming. A hobby of any kind can disengage one from a sense of loneliness. In general, finding activities to do with others can do this. People thrive not just physically but also emotionally and socially by taking yoga classes, Insanity or Zumba. Participating in a group activity simply means you feel as if you are part of something larger than yourself, even if you really are just there for yourself.

     Spending too much time online, oddly enough, oftentimes makes people feel more isolated as most people put their best foot forward on social media and present an enhanced image that may not even be true. They are real people with anxieties, depression, insecurities, frustrations like everyone else, despite the glossy, glammed up image. To be able to launch yourself into an activity you have never done before oftentimes takes building one’s self esteem. Finding a person in your life that you can relate to, who cares for you and vice versa is a step in that direction. This person can be a family member, a neighbor, a church friend, or a pal at The Alaska Club. In general, people who cultivate relationships tend to have greater self-esteem. The sense of being valued, of mattering to someone goes hand in hand with self-esteem. Lively discussions, rigorous activities, volunteer groups make us feel part of an integrated whole. We have a sense of belonging, that our lives count for something and that we contribute and matter by virtue of just being involved. Work out at The Alaska Club and strike up conversations. That sense of communal involvement will hold loneliness at bay. We are, after all, social creatures. People who need people really are the luckiest people in the world.

Topics: Community, mental health, winter

Written by Barbara DuBois

MA Health Ed. & Int'l Journalism; PhD Sports & Health History; Texas Tech Univ. & Wayland Baptist Univ. instructor; Health Ed. Program Manager Maniilaq Assoc.

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