January 19, 2023
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Photography by Eldad Carin/Stocksy United
Living with a chronic condition can feel isolating, and winter may make that worse. From learning a new hobby to finding a support group, these activities can remind you that you are not alone.
Living with a chronic condition can be isolating and lonely any time of year, but the shorter, colder days of winter can make it especially difficult to cope.
If you have a condition that causes chronic pain, you may find it difficult to start moving first thing in the morning. You may also have more pain due to the cold. This worsened pain can make it even harder to socialize.
Many chronic conditions can weaken your immune system. Sometimes, the medications used to treat these types of diseases can make one more susceptible to illness, too. Knowing this, the latest triple-demic — when the flu, respiratory syncytial virus, and COVID-19 collide — may make leaving your home feel very scary.
But instead of pulling the covers over your head and waiting until spring, there are things you can do to combat isolation and build community, even during the winter months.
These days, when it seems like all anyone wants to do is text, it can be intimidating to have an actual phone conversation. But even just a few minutes spent with an empathetic ear on the other end of the line can have a powerful effect on your mental health.
In one study conducted during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers identified 240 adults who were homebound and therefore experiencing increased isolation as a result of the pandemic. Half of the participants received two to five 10-minute calls per week from volunteers who were instructed to focus on empathetic listening and eliciting conversation about topics of the participants’ choice.
After 4 weeks, those who chatted with friendly strangers reported feeling 20% less lonely. They also saw improvements in symptoms of anxiety and depression.
So, pick up the phone and reconnect with an old friend. Chances are, they would love to hear from you. You don’t even have to talk about your chronic condition — unless, of course, you want to.
Getting lost in a good book can be so therapeutic. A good mystery, romance, or even nonfiction book can help you reconnect with the world or even temporarily escape from it.
Reading may also help you feel less alone as you see yourself in the stories of others.
Here are a couple book recommendations for people living with chronic conditions:
Pick a new hobby you can do at home. There are affordable and convenient kits for nearly everything now, from painting to drawing to cross-stitching. Some online retailers will overnight them to your door in the event you’re looking for a quick pick-me-up.
Having something fun and creative to do during your alone time can help combat loneliness.
If you want to get out of the house, check out your local recreation center, library, or athletic center. They often host classes for free or affordable pricing that are great for beginners. Just try something. You really never know what might stick.
I reluctantly tried a weightlifting class many years ago and fell in love. I had no idea I was going to feel so strong, powerful, and even beautiful. After weeks of going, I made friends. I’m so thankful I still have this friend group so many years later.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought about many changes, including the accelerated use of technology and the internet to bring people living with chronic conditions closer together.
Support groups aren’t just for people who need help but also for people who have extra help to give.
Not sure where to start? Your Bezzy community is a great place to turn for online peer support. If you’re looking to connect IRL, ask your care team about local support groups. Many advocacy organizations like the Arthritis Foundation host regional groups for those looking for peer support.
Talk therapy is great for anyone with a chronic condition, especially if you’re experiencing loneliness. The hardest part can be scheduling for the first time. And while It might take a little effort, it’s so worth it in the end.
Start with your health insurance for coverage benefits available. Many have both in-person and online resources available to you at little or no cost.
Check with your employer and, if applicable, your spouse’s employer, too. Many companies offer employee assistance programs that provide mental health support.
You can also check out Psychology Today’s Find a Therapist tool, which lets you search by zip code.
Volunteering is a great way to give back. This is so rewarding that it’s a surefire way to combat winter loneliness.
Organizations like the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Arthritis Foundation, and the National Psoriasis Foundation are always looking for volunteers.
Outside of these, food banks always need extra help, and not just around the holidays. Check out Feeding America for volunteer opportunities in your area.
Winter can be an isolating time of year, especially when you’re living with a chronic condition. No matter how it feels, know that you are not alone.
Focus on finding at least one way to reach out to others, and remember that warmer, longer days will be here before you know it. In the meantime, your Bezzy community is here for you.
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