Spending time with friends and loved ones is a surefire way to boost your mood. But feeling connected does more than just make you happy! It’s actually good for your health. Loneliness can actually have a negative effect on our physical well-being, and being with others confers benefits that can add 15 healthy years to your life. Luckily, there are a few easy and quick ways to feel less lonely. These three science-backed, loneliness-easing shortcuts take only a few minutes a day.
Turn in a little earlier.
In an odd twist, shortchanging pillow time makes you feel lonelier too. Researchers at the Center for Human Sleep Science at Berkeley say just a single night of less-than-great sleep blunts social regions in the brain, kick-starting a cycle that magnifies loneliness. The simple fix: Head to bed 16 minutes earlier and get up 17 minutes later. If you’re like the average American, those extra 33 minutes will let you reach the seven hours of sleep that’s proven to lessen loneliness.
Send out your love.
Sending your heart in prayer to a loved one experiencing the same feelings you are has a remarkable side benefit: It makes you feel less alone with your pain. “Reflecting on others makes us feel a part of something bigger,” explains Lise Van Susteren, M.D., coauthor of Emotional Inflammation ($17.29, Amazon). Indeed, recent findings show the practice to be so powerful, it boosts the production of “the cuddle hormone” oxytocin by 36 percent, which can induce feelings similar to being present with folks. To do: Close your eyes and visualize breathing in a loved one’s loneliness and sending a blessing with each out-breath.
Curl up with a book.
That good book you’re reading is one of the most effective defenses against loneliness, according to an impressive body of research. “Reading activates a part of our brain that lets us forget about our own pain,” producing similar empathetic feelings to those we have when socializing, explains Dr. Van Susteren. Tip: Choose fiction or biography, since most nonfiction didn’t have the same loneliness-banishing effects.
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This story originally appeared in our print magazine.