Whether you work or not, you could still be in the process of retiring. That is, retiring from your life. A kind of ‘inaction’ often starts to set in for many middle-agers. Some folks don’t go out as much; or they stop reaching out to friends and even to family. The entire range of their life begins to shrink.
Is this common isolation behavior happening in your own life? Ask yourself these questions: When was the last time you went some place other than a movie? When was the last time you went to a party or other social occasion? How many friends or family members have you seen or talked with in the past week? Has the number of friends you keep in touch with regularly declined over the past few years?
Answering those questions may be shocking, because you may not have realized the truth. Too many people our age allow themselves to slip into being socially isolated without even realizing it.
Social isolation is not the same thing as loneliness. Being lonely is a personal feeling that can be felt anywhere, even in the middle of a crowded room. Social isolation is never getting to that crowded room, or to almost any other place outside the home. It’s losing contact with friends and acquaintances, either by attrition or neglect, shrinking life down to the home television set, reading, eating and mostly just sitting around.
However, the situation of being alone with little outside interaction may contribute to a feeling of loneliness, which often results in clinical depression. According to the medical news site Medscape, “Emerging evidence suggests that depression and social isolation are associated with late-onset dementia. Social isolation is defined as a lack of social engagement, poor social resources, being alone, or not or no longer being married. Many other studies say that isolation in middle age or older often results in earlier deaths.
One big life change that causes social isolation is job retirement. The former five-day-a-week interaction with others, no matter how trivial, completely stops. Sometimes, a kind of shock sets in. Many folks start off frequently calling their former colleagues at work to stay in touch, without realizing that casual conversation at the office is far less of a work interruption than a phone call from outside. Instead of calling others during their work hours, communicate via social media, which allows them to respond when it’s more convenient.
If you’re already well along the path to social isolation, stop allowing yourself to slip into acceptance. However, reversing the situation will require actual effort on your part – hard, continuous effort. Becoming involved with others again will be like breaking a bad habit. Going to a movie by yourself doesn’t count.
The first step is finding a way to meet and interact with others. A good start is to think of an activity you would be interested in sharing with others. Next, search online for clubs or groups in your area formed around that activity. Whether it’s sewing or woodworking, dancing or discussion, you can usually find a group online. Use a library computer (usually free) if yours isn’t connected to the internet. Go to a group meeting and see if you like the people and the atmosphere. If so, keep attending meetings; but don’t stop there. Think of other interests, and reach out to those groups as well. Volunteering is a terrific way to meet and work with others. And although most of the 55-plus age group shudders at the thought of senior centers, they are totally different from the cliched image of old folks in wheel chairs.
Begin the work of getting back into a life that includes interacting with others so that you’re never again socially isolated. It will do your heart good.