Seventeen smart tips to keep busy and ward off loneliness—from virtual Gaudí tours to Pilates Zoom classes to political activism.
By Sally Wendkos Olds
Clapping for healthcare workers at Cobble Hill health center in Brooklyn. Photo: Marie Le Ble / ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy
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If you’re a fifty-plus solo-ager just barely coming out of lockdown—especially if you’re no longer actively in the work force—chances are you’ve been encountering new feelings of loneliness. With the museums still boarded up, theater lights dark, and restaurants not yet back as welcome havens, what can you do to feel better in this unprecedented time in our lifetimes? This question is important, since loneliness itself is a health hazard.
But even as we are confined to our own homes, stepping out perhaps for forays to the supermarket, but with no or minimal face-to-face interaction with friends or family, we solo-agers can do much to keep ourselves occupied, even as we avoid the danger of the novel coronavirus. I fall into this category myself, having lived alone since my husband of fifty-four years died ten years ago. I’m happy that my daughters and grandchildren and my close friends are all well, but I miss seeing them in person and wish we could get together.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether our feelings are those of loneliness (not having someone who cares about us to talk to) or boredom (not having enough of interest to do). Fortunately, there are ways to deal with both. The easier one to tackle is boredom.
Two women who work with solo-agers have recommendations anyone of any age can benefit from. Sara Zeff Geber, Ph.D., a professional speaker and coach, and author of Essential Retirement Planning for Solo Agers, counsels, “You need to remind yourself that this is not forever, but while it’s going on there’s so much you can do to avoid feeling lonely.” And Wendl Kornfeld, who created and facilitates the program Community as Family, sponsored by Temple Emanu-El in New York, has developed a checklist which she gives to her group members. The following suggestions are adapted from their recommendations.
Sometimes people conflate loneliness with boredom. Shut in as we often are these days, deprived of our usual activities, many of us feel bored, along with the pangs of loneliness. For myself, I find that when I’m busy—and not bored—I don’t feel lonely. And with the wealth of online opportunities that have exploded over the past few months, I can be busy virtually every hour of every day. When I check my computer, which I try to do every morning, I always find something special to do.
Here are some of the many opportunities available to do from home:
One basic tool is the humble old (or smart new) telephone. Over the past few years, speaking on the phone has often been overlooked in favor of more high-tech communication like email and texting. But it remains a comforting way to let us hear the actual voices of those we hold dear. Setting aside time for planned phone chats will give us something to look forward to on a regular basis.
Whenever feasible, try in-person get-togethers, as Dr. Geber and a few of her neighbors do. One of them takes her TV outdoors, with a few friends positioned a safe distance away, but close enough to hear and see the same show, which they go on to discuss when it’s over.
From Online Tours at the Louvre Petite Galerie.
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Check out Best Virtual Museum Tours and take virtual online tours of museums around the world. I just signed up for a guided one-hour tour about the life and work of the Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí, many of whose thrilling works are on glorious display in Barcelona. Gaudí’s Barcelona Live Interactive Virtual Tour on Eventbrite, $15.
Google Arts and Culture also offers a long list of opportunities, such as these Art Sleuth videos about famous paintings. Click on the painting and it will take you there.
Subscribe to allarts.org, a newsletter offering specifics about dance, music, theatre, visual arts, and spoken word performances streaming for free.
Films and theater events are currently screened throughout the day, many of them accessible, for free, on your local TV and internet channels. Lincoln Center at Home offers plays and concerts virtually every day. The Metropolitan Opera streams classics you may have missed or can’t see often enough. Turner Classic Movies on the TCM channel features many flicks you may have missed.
Many organizations offer online talks on a regular basis. Go to their websites for scheduling information. The New-York Historical Society recently held a gripping talk by Edward T. O’Donnell about his book, Ship Ablaze: The Tragedy of the Steamboat General Slocum, telling the tragic story of the 1904 East River disaster, in which 1,021 lives were lost. It was the worst calamity to befall New York before 9/11.
Go places through portals like travel writer Rick Steves’s articles and podcasts, as well as other travel articles, so you’ll be ready for the day when we can travel again.
Take the time to stay fit. Even if you can’t work out in your local gym, you can find all sorts of ways to keep up with exercise. Many teachers offer Zoom classes in Zumba, stretching, Pilates, yoga, weight-training, whole-body workouts, and other ways of staying in shape. A handful to check out are A-line Pilates, [solidcore], Structure Personal Fitness, New York Yoga, Ailey Extension, and now:yoga.
Take a walk in your neighborhood, with or without a friend. Just make sure you’re masked and keep a safe distance from your companion, as well as others.
Play online Scrabble, Words with Friends, the New York Times crossword or The New Yorker’s crossword puzzles, chess, or other games.
The New York Times Crossword, edited by Will Shortz.
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Keep up with your regular activities in a new way. For example, my book group, which has been meeting monthly for years in one another’s apartments, now gets together over Zoom. We read our books, then keep to our meeting schedule and have discussions that are just as lively as the ones we used to have—and will have again—in person.
Learn a new language: use Duolingo or other programs on your phone.
Organize those family photos you’ve been meaning to categorize for years.
Sign up for Senior Planet, an organization for people over age sixty that comes to your mailbox on a regular basis with helpful articles about health, entertainment, and better living.
Join the Vitality Society, which offers many free and low-cost opportunities, including classes, discussion groups, and chances to connect with other mature people.
Get involved in politics. I like knowing that I don’t have to be a passive member of the electorate, and can get involved in political issues I feel strongly about. For example, I have been writing postcards to registered Democratic voters, urging them to vote in special elections in their districts.
Grannies for Black Lives: From the Black Lives Matter protests at the Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn on Juneteenth. Photo by spurekar / Flickr.
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Possibly the most important thing we can do right now is address the scourge of racism in our country. To see which courses and discussions are available online, go to Eventbrite and search for racism. You’ll find discussions, lectures, and other events, either free or for modest fees. Getting involved with one of these may save our nation.
Above all, your best route to keeping both boredom and loneliness at bay is to get out of yourself and help someone else. The American Association for Retired Persons (AARP) helps its members find ways to help others, based on their abilities and interests. Just call 888-281-0145 or go to AARP’s “Create the Good” website.
Sally Wendkos Olds is an award-winning writer about intimate relationships, personal growth, and development throughout life. In addition to her classic The Complete Book of Breastfeeding, now in its fourth edition, she is the author or coauthor of ten other books and hundreds of articles in major publications.
You may enjoy other NYCitywoman articles by Sally Wendkos Olds:
Home Sharing for Older Adults in NYC
NYC’s Organizations for Older Adults, Part 1
NYC’s Organizations for Older Adults, Part 2
How Seniors Share Experience and Wisdom
Saving Your Marriage After An Affair
Private Libraries in New York City
You’re Never too Old to Find New Friends