Feeling lonely? You're actually in great company. In a study for AARP Foundation, researchers looked at people age 45 and older to better understand loneliness, drawing both positive and negative conclusions. The good news: the study found that loneliness decreases with age. The not-so-good news: those in their mid-to-late 40s reported the most loneliness, with 46 percent identifying with the feeling. Top predictors of loneliness, according to the study, are the size and diversity of a person's social network and physical isolation.
Psychotherapist Linda Miles, based in Tallahassee, Florida, says she's seeing more women in this 45-plus age group who report feeling lonely. Our increasingly mobile culture may be exacerbating it, she says. "People often live far away from their families now," says Miles, author of the book Change Your Story, Change Your Brain. Plus, for women, the potential effects of menopause - the depression, anxiety, hormone changes, sleeplessness, mood swings - can all contribute to a desire to isolate oneself.
When talking with patients about loneliness. Miles has a favorite phrase by writer and mythologist Joseph Campbell: "Follow your bliss." Because battling loneliness isn't just about putting yourself around other people, says Miles. It's about identifying the kind of people you want to be around and participating in the activities that align with your your values - at all stages of your life. Here, Miles shares three tips to help you feel less alone during your mid-life years.
1. Tap into your socializing strengths.
By taking personality tests, you can better understand not only who you are, but why you like certain things. If you're an introvert, for example, you may not be the best at making small talk at parties. When you accept that this is simply a part of your personality, says Miles, you can be more forgiving of awkward moments and schedule interactions when you're more comfortable, like a one-on-one coffee outing with a friend. She recommends completing a free online questionnaire through University of Pennsylvania's Authentic Happiness Center called the "Via Survey of Character Strengths." That test, along with some personal reflection, can help you identify the types of endeavors you might enjoy, whether it's a book club, continuing education classes, crafting activities or other pursuits. "Research at the the University of Pennsylvania led by Dr. Martin Seligman has shown that people are happiest when their activities are consistent with their values," says Miles.
2. Help others (and animals, too!).
Finding a way to be of service to others is a powerful way to help make an impact - on the people you're helping as well as yourself. Think about ways you'd like to volunteer. Is it reading to children? Delivering meals to homebound adults? Spending time at an animal shelter? Miles says that in addition to giving back, these are great places to get to know other volunteers.
3. Embrace your vulnerability.
When chatting with people, try to let your guard down. Miles refers to this as "truth poker," as the stakes raise every time you open up. Pick an acquaintance you'd like to know better and consider sharing about a struggle you're working through. Maybe it's even a challenge you're dealing with related to menopause. They may, in turn, share a challenge of their own - hot flashes, anyone? Showing vulnerability can be the first stage of building trust and establishing what could become a meaningful friendship.
If loneliness is creeping into your life, staying aware is the first step. Now that you know middle age can feel isolating for many women, it may be time to make an action plan. Identify your values and passions, reach out to friends and loved ones. listen and be curious when speaking with others and you'll already be making strides toward following your bliss. And if those on the receiving end are also women your own age, chances are you'll hope them follow their bliss, too.
KateSilver is a Gen X writer living in Chicago. Her work regularly appears in Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and on her own website, www.thekatesilver.com.