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Setting Your Loneliness Loose

Addressing loneliness and social isolation decreases health risks, improves connection

Experiencing loneliness isn’t just a day-to-day downside of life – sometimes it can be detrimental to your health.

The U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, MBA recently released an advisory warning of the dangers of loneliness. “It is associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, stroke, depression, anxiety, and premature death,” the advisory states. The mortality impact of being socially disconnected is similar to that caused by smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, and even greater than that associated with obesity and physical inactivity.

“Physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants now are doing more and more screening for things like anxiety and depression – diagnoses which often have symptoms of loneliness or isolation,” said board-certified family medicine physician Dr. Michelle Folsom-Elder of CalvertHealth Primary Care. She continued, “There can be many forms of loneliness as well and you can find people feeling this way even if they are surrounded by people. I try to remind people that even if you are alone you don’t have to be lonely.”

According to the American Hospital Association (AHA), loneliness can increase one’s risk of premature death by 26 percent, risk of heart disease by 29 percent, and risk of stroke by 32 percent. Loneliness affects half of American adults, so building connections to other people is a vital health priority. Loneliness can also cause emotional pain/distress, which can activate the same stress response signals in the body as physical pain, according to the National Institute on Aging.

Dr. Folsom-Elder recognizes there are several barriers to combatting loneliness. Often, people further isolate themselves when they become lonely. Teens and the older populations are particularly at risk because their capacity and means to physically go out into the community are limited. Children and teens often isolate due to transportation concerns and lack of opportunity to join groups. Those with mobility challenges can have a particularly difficult time with isolation.

“My number one piece of advice would be to not be afraid or concerned about asking for assistance. Reaching out to any number of organizations in the county, as well as your local doctor’s office may offer you some help,” said Dr. Folsom-Elder.


  1. Sign up for a class or recreational sports through your local Parks and Recreation department. Pickleball has become popular because of its social factor.
  2. Participate in the many free classes and events offered at the public libraries. It’s a great way to meet others with similar interests.
  3. Enjoy a delicious lunch and delightful conversation at your nearby senior center.
  4. Volunteer for a cause you care about like the food pantry or an animal shelter.
  5. Leverage social media: there are many groups on Facebook geared toward in-person connection in the local area, including book clubs and mom groups which host in-person meetups.
  6. Join a non-credit personal enrichment class at the College of Southern Maryland: remember how comparatively easy it was to make friends as a child when in classes surrounded by people your own age all day every day? Simulate this experience as an adult and pick up a new skill or hobby. Learn more at csmd.edu.
  7. Coach or assistant coach a youth recreational sports team. County parks and recreation departments often need more volunteer coaches for their youth recreational sports programs and typically experience is not required/training is provided.
  8. Invite your neighbors over for a game and snack night. Keep it simple to plan and purchase treats from a local bakery!
  9. Invite a coworker to go to lunch with you – even if you telework, meeting in person from time to time builds connection and can create positive connections for your workday and outside your workday.
  10. Join a local gym/group fitness studio and attend classes at a consistent time each week to start seeing the same people each week.
  11. Invite a neighbor or post in your neighborhood social media group inviting people to go for an evening walk as temperatures get warmer. Even better is if you have a weekly walk group at the same day and time each week.
  12. Schedule a time to video chat with friends and relatives from far away instead of a phone call or text message. Waiting for it to happen spontaneously reduces the chance of it happening.
  13. For young nieces, nephews, grandchildren, etc., who live far away, offer to read a bedtime story the same day each month over video chat to build connection.
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