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Social Life With PH: 5 Ways to Combat Loneliness

Posted on July 15, 2022
Article written by
Anastasia Climan, RDN, CDN
Article written by
Kelly Crumrin

Pulmonary hypertension (PH) doesn’t just affect physical health. It can take a toll on emotional well-being and mental health as well. Members of myPHteam often discuss feeling alone, especially when others don’t seem to understand or relate to what they’re going through. It can be even harder to connect if you are hesitant to share the impact of PH and its symptoms on your life because you don’t want others to worry or feel sorry for you.

On myPHteam, members often encourage each other to overcome these hesitations and socialize. One member, who wears an oxygen mask and has physical limitations, went on a recent outing. She reported, “Two women were gaping at me with my walker and oxygen. My daughter told me to ignore them, but that is hard to do.”

Another member responded, “I’m on oxygen 24/7 and have to use my portable when I go out. It’s either that or stay home. Your daughter is right — ignore the gawkers. I usually flash them a smile.“

Knowing that others deal with similar situations can give you the confidence to nurture social relationships, whether old or new, in person or online. Fostering social connections can help you improve your emotional well-being and boost your quality of life and may improve your health.

Loneliness and Health

Loneliness and isolation can make health problems worse. Loneliness has even been studied as a risk factor for serious health issues and may result in a:

  • 50 percent higher risk of dementia
  • 29 percent higher risk of heart disease
  • 32 percent higher risk of stroke

Lonely people are more likely to end up in the emergency room and be hospitalized. In addition, higher rates of inflammation and physical pain are common among people who report feeling isolated.

You can take steps to build meaningful connections and feel socially fulfilled, despite your physical limitations. Here are some ideas to expand your social life.

1. Take a Class

It’s never too late to learn something new. Signing up for a class through an adult education program, a religious organization, a community college, a senior center, or your local library creates opportunities to develop social connections and new skills.

If you think fatigue may prevent your participation, consider a virtual program or schedule an activity during the time of day when you’re most alert. For some, that may mean going to a class in the afternoon, while others have more energy first thing in the morning.

You might consider signing up to learn a musical instrument or foreign language, take voice lessons, or practice tai chi with a group. Here are some other popular classes that might appeal to you:

  • Cooking
  • Creative writing
  • Coding or website building
  • Quilting
  • Ceramics
  • Painting
  • Woodworking
  • Stained glass design
  • Religious studies

Taking classes as an adult can keep both the mind and social skills sharp. It’s a great way to meet people with similar interests. Even if you don’t wind up staying in touch with the other participants, the class will keep you busy and prevent you from spending too much time alone.

2. Volunteer

Sharing your time and talents can increase your sense of purpose and introduce you to a network of like-minded individuals. There are endless opportunities to get involved with different organizations no matter what you’re passionate about. If PH has led to you scaling back at work or planning an early retirement, volunteering can help fill the social void left by your job.

Not only will volunteering allow you to contribute to an important cause, but you’ll also reap numerous benefits, including:

  • A boost in happiness (by 7 percent to 16 percent, according to studies)
  • Enhanced creativity
  • Increased motivation and drive
  • Higher self-confidence
  • Improved physical health
  • More time outdoors (depending on the type of volunteering)
  • Reduced rate of depression
  • A greater sense of community and belonging

Look into advocating for PH, getting involved with local politics, volunteering at a food shelter, or helping out at a nonprofit organization. No matter how much (or little) time and energy you have to offer, you can find a way to make a difference.

You can volunteer without leaving home — VolunteerMatch lists thousands of virtual volunteer opportunities you can sort by cause.

3. Consider Adopting a Pet

Pets can be a source of unconditional love, comfort, and friendship. If you find yourself looking for company and companionship, plenty of animals need a home.

Members of myPHteam often share how much their animal friends mean to them. One member wrote, “I would be lost without my little cats. I have two, and they provide so much company for me!”

Because pets can come with a lot of responsibility, you’ll want to think carefully about the best fit for your lifestyle. Here are some questions to ask yourself before choosing a pet:

  • What type of animal best matches my energy level? For instance, an older animal is less active than a kitten or puppy.
  • Which pets are a good fit for my living situation? Consider how much space your potential pet needs, whether it will require daily walks or outdoor time, and how noisy it will be for your neighbors.
  • Will I be able to afford the related expenses? Be sure to factor in food, medical costs, litter, and grooming.
  • Who will care for my pet if I’m away or something happens to me? Having a contingency plan is an essential part of being a responsible pet owner.

If you love animals but aren’t quite ready for the commitment of adoption, consider fostering a pet or helping out at your local animal shelter instead.

4. Join a Book Club

Whether you enjoy curling up with a good mystery or prefer science fiction, fantasy, or romance, there’s a book club for you. These groups provide another great way to find people with shared interests as you read and discuss new books. Your local library or favorite bookstore may host book clubs near you. Goodreads is one of many places to begin looking for virtual book clubs.

5. Try Gaming

Even if you’ve never thought of yourself as a gamer, there are so many options that there’s probably one you’d enjoy. Whether you’re using a smartphone, tablet, or computer, all kinds of games allow you to connect with other players. For instance, if you enjoy word games, you can play Words With Friends or Wordle with others or on your own. If you enjoy, say, solving puzzles, exploring new worlds, or fighting bad guys, playing games can be a great way to make connections.

As a bonus, mobile gaming on your phone or tablet can be done anywhere — and it’s a great way to kill time while standing in line or sitting in a waiting room.

Talk With Others Who Understand

On myPHteam, the social network for people with pulmonary hypertension and their loved ones, more than 45,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with pulmonary hypertension.

Have you become isolated since developing pulmonary hypertension? Have you found any ways to remain social and connected? Share your experiences in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on myPHteam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Anastasia Climan, RDN, CDN is a dietitian with over 10 years of experience in public health and medical writing. Learn more about her here.
Kelly Crumrin is a senior editor at MyHealthTeam and leads the creation of content that educates and empowers people with chronic illnesses. Learn more about her here.

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