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12 things to help you find community and combat loneliness – Boston Herald

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By Andrea Richards

The global pandemic intensified what was already classified as an epidemic of loneliness in America.

A 2021 study commissioned by Cigna concluded that more than half of adults in the U.S. (58 percent) are considered lonely. The many health consequences of loneliness — increases in conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, dementia, depression, anxiety, addiction and suicide — prompted U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murty to issue an advisory in April 2023 warning that lack of social connection increases the risk of premature death as much as daily cigarette smoking.

Because social connection is such a significant predictor of longevity, Murty made increasing it a priority for public health, creating a national plan for how to foster these essential connections. A key recommendation is to actively participate in social and community groups — in other words, adults need more play.

“When we talk about and think of play, we often imagine children running around a playground or teenagers playing sports or video games with their friends. The face of play, if you will, rarely is the face of adults, even though play in adulthood is just as important as it is in childhood,” says Dr. Elizabeth A. Laugeson, a clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. “Play is simply engaging in recreational activities that are enjoyable.”

Not just kid stuff

Play — for adults, not just kids — reduces social isolation and improves mental and physical health.

“A lot of it has to do with the fact that play provides opportunities for us to socialize with friends and family. Having even one or two close friends buffers the impact of stressful life events and is actually closely related to things like quality of life. Those one or two close friends make it less likely that we’re going to be depressed or anxious. Play can provide an important vehicle to fuel those friendships,” says Laugeson, founder and director of the UCLA PEERS Clinic, an outpatient program that provides evidence-based social skills training for individuals from preschool to adulthood (she also wrote the book “The Science of Making Friends”).

To find ways to play — and foster social connection — Laugeson likes the social platform Meetup as a resource to find those groups, which offers a diverse array of opportunities, from cosplay and improv comedy to sports teams and tattoo design.

“While just showing up to a Meetup group based on your interest is not a guarantee of a friendship or a social connection with someone, the fact that you are all at this group means that you all want to be social and you all have this common interest so you’re already off to a good start,” she says.

Her life hack for finding friends or fostering a sense of social connection? Find something you like to do and a place where other people with the same interests are — which certainly works to promote play. Instead of languishing at home, get out and find someone to play with. Some ideas:

Archery

Why not take a stab at something new? Historically used for combat and hunting, the practice of shooting an arrow with a bow is now mostly reserved for target shooting as a sport or recreation.

Similar to martial arts, horseback riding and racquet sports, there’s both a physical and a mental component to archery that demands both focus and agility. Plus, as a sport it’s often played in teams, so there’s a social dimension.

A number of nonprofit clubs offer lessons for beginners, including the Pasadena Roving Archers, who provide the equipment and a lesson for first-timers on certain Saturday mornings in the Lower Arroyo public park, and the South Bay Archery Club in Palos Verdes.

Art classes

Art therapy has long been used to improve physical, mental and emotional well-being, and studies show that even a passive engagement with art affects the prefrontal cortex of the brain — the part that regulates emotions, thoughts and behaviors.

Trying out some mode of visual art — drawing, painting, printmaking, crafts, ceramics — offers an opportunity for self-expression and socialization through taking a class. Municipal organizations offer a host of affordable options for all ages, as do art museums, or join a community group that’s working in a particular medium.

The Southern California Plein Air Painters Association hosts “paint outs” in parks, nature preserves and even at the San Clemente Pier, where people get together to paint outdoors (they also host Zoom gatherings). POT, a community ceramics studio with locations in LA’s Echo Park and Mid City, offers ongoing pottery classes in English and Spanish — and, for those who just want to drop-in, a range of fun, one-time workshops.

Book clubs and writing workshops

Word play counts as play — there doesn’t have to be a physical dimension to reap the benefits of play — plus, having the same reading material serve as a center for discussion means there’s no struggling to find commonalities for conversation.

Public libraries and independent bookstores host open book groups that serve a range of interests and genres. For example, the Newport Beach Public Library Foundation offers a free book discussion group. Skylight Books, located in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, offers 15 different affiliated clubs, plus two more book clubs run by the store.

The Southern California News Group offers Bookish, a free monthly virtual author interview program with a lively online discussion. Also subscribe to the free weekly newsletter The Book Pages, which frequently includes information on ways to connect with the literary community.

Want to be a writer yourself? Check out some of the free writing workshops at the Venice-based nonprofit Beyond Baroque, or explore the offerings of Riverside’s Inlandia Institute. Independent Writers of Southern California is another avenue for writerly connections.

Community gardening

Gardening is outdoor exercise that benefits physical health, and studies show it also boosts moods and helps with anxiety.

Community gardens offer the opportunity to reap these benefits while also meeting neighbors, who share plant knowledge and food with each other. Find one through organizations like the Los Angeles Community Garden Council, the Long Beach Community Garden Association, or UC’s Master Gardner’s Association.

Or, look for volunteer opportunities and workshops at nearby public gardens. Pasadena’s Arlington Gardens welcomes novice green thumbs on Tuesdays and on weekends to work on projects, and the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust operates programming with classes and learning opportunities at community gardens across Los Angeles.

And, if an at-home option works better for you, another free virtual program by the Southern California News Group, Garden Party, might help you connect while offering lots to learn. Past shows are available, with a new series launching in January with columnist Laura Simpson.

Game nights

From classic board games and giant Jenga to trivia nights and Dungeons & Dragons, venues across the Southland host theme nights dedicated to getting patrons to play. Look to local bars, breweries, boba and tea cafes, coffee shops, restaurants, museums, recreation centers and parks for free events. It can be as casual as chess in West Hollywood’s Plummer Park or family game night in neighborhood parks in the city of Lakewood, to a special “Flower Hour,” game night at Claremont’s California Botanic Garden.

Geocaching

For those not familiar, geocaching is a worldwide, continuous scavenger hunt that uses GPS equipment (mostly smartphones) to track down and find “caches” hidden in public spaces. An app tells seekers how many caches are nearby, and the treasure hunt begins. Once found, the seekers sign a log IRL that stays with the cache (or online), but be sure to put it back so other explorers can continue to play. Sometimes the cache has tiny treasures inside that players can take or trade for, leaving their own gifts inside.

Provided the rules are followed correctly — the California Department of Parks and Recreation website has guidelines for how to geocache without damaging ecosystems — this fun activity promotes both physical movement, puzzle-solving skills, and connecting with strangers. And, it can be done alongside other geocachers as well.

Hiking clubs

Outdoor exercise plus community and time in nature? All of these make for good play, so joining one of the many groups dedicated to exploring some of Southern California’s stunning hiking trails is a great way to get connected to people and places.

From an urban trek to the Hollywood sign in Griffith Park to traversing more strenuous routes in the San Gabriel Mountains, there’s a wealth of options for all abilities. Many groups inspire greater diversity and inclusion such as Black Girls Trekkin’, Latino Outdoors and Women Who Hike. Many land and environmental conservation organizations, including the California State Parks and the Sierra Club, offer resources to help find guided hikes.

Jam sessions/group music lessons

Music brings people together — and it’s not just Beyoncé and Taylor Swift who prove it.

Research studies in neuroscience show that performing music together triggers endorphin release in the brain, which plays a role in forming social bonds and connection. And, while singing together inside can be a concern due to the transmission of respiratory viruses, playing music together outdoors is one way to forge new connections and reap the brain benefits of play and music.

Look for outdoor community concerts, and even join in — some long-standing drum circles meet weekly, including ones on Sundays in L.A.’s Leimert Park and Griffith Park.

 

Lawn and racquet sports

Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in America for good reason: it’s an outdoor exercise that is accessible (there’s a low barrier to entry in terms of cost and skills) and allows socializing at the same time (the close net play allows participants to talk throughout the game). The stereotype of it being a sport only for seniors is wrong — recent data shows the average age of a pickleball player is 34 and the fastest-growing segment of players are under 24.

With all the buzz, it’s time to raise the profile of the similarly accessible sports of badminton, bocce, lawn bowling and ping-pong — all of which can be played with minimal equipment in parks. Some public parks already have the facilities (just bring paddles, racquets, balls or shuttlecocks), and there are many community clubs for enthusiasts.

Museum docents

Training as a docent for a local cultural organization or museum provides preparation to talk to new people — there are outlines and scripts from educators to guide the presentations and conversations, so it’s an opportunity to learn more about a subject of interest and a way to meet other folks interested in the same subject.

For history buffs, there’s training to lead tours of historic sites with organizations including Hollywood Heritage, Los Angeles Conservancy, Riverside’s Mission Inn Museum, or LA’s Central Library, which offers a docent program for volunteers interested in the library’s art and architecture.

Similarly, museums of all kinds offer extensive training courses, including Santa Ana’s Bowers Museum of Cultural Art, the Getty, Orange County Museum of Art and USC’s Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena.

Volunteering

From fostering pets and helping at animal shelters to stocking food banks and participating in community clean-ups, community service helps build social connection, and (as numerous studies have concluded) also improves physical and mental health for the person volunteering.

Not only does volunteer work offer a chance to meet new neighbors and expand social networks, it also encourages people to engage with individuals who have different experiences than their own.

Wordle

Here’s one that doesn’t require leaving home and is endorsed by Dr. Laugeson: do the daily Wordle. “I’m obsessed with Wordle, and I even looked this up: 14% of Americans play Wordle on a regular basis. That’s a lot of people … and it’s a form of play,” she says.

While doing the daily Wordle might seem solitary, posting the results on social media spurs online conversation. Laugeson, like many players, also shares the results of her Wordle with people in her social circle. “I mean, I’m guaranteed to hear from my mother daily through our Wordle. If I didn’t hear from her, I would be concerned.”


By Andrea Richards

The global pandemic intensified what was already classified as an epidemic of loneliness in America.

A 2021 study commissioned by Cigna concluded that more than half of adults in the U.S. (58 percent) are considered lonely. The many health consequences of loneliness — increases in conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, dementia, depression, anxiety, addiction and suicide — prompted U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murty to issue an advisory in April 2023 warning that lack of social connection increases the risk of premature death as much as daily cigarette smoking.

Because social connection is such a significant predictor of longevity, Murty made increasing it a priority for public health, creating a national plan for how to foster these essential connections. A key recommendation is to actively participate in social and community groups — in other words, adults need more play.

“When we talk about and think of play, we often imagine children running around a playground or teenagers playing sports or video games with their friends. The face of play, if you will, rarely is the face of adults, even though play in adulthood is just as important as it is in childhood,” says Dr. Elizabeth A. Laugeson, a clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. “Play is simply engaging in recreational activities that are enjoyable.”

Not just kid stuff

Play — for adults, not just kids — reduces social isolation and improves mental and physical health.

“A lot of it has to do with the fact that play provides opportunities for us to socialize with friends and family. Having even one or two close friends buffers the impact of stressful life events and is actually closely related to things like quality of life. Those one or two close friends make it less likely that we’re going to be depressed or anxious. Play can provide an important vehicle to fuel those friendships,” says Laugeson, founder and director of the UCLA PEERS Clinic, an outpatient program that provides evidence-based social skills training for individuals from preschool to adulthood (she also wrote the book “The Science of Making Friends”).

To find ways to play — and foster social connection — Laugeson likes the social platform Meetup as a resource to find those groups, which offers a diverse array of opportunities, from cosplay and improv comedy to sports teams and tattoo design.

“While just showing up to a Meetup group based on your interest is not a guarantee of a friendship or a social connection with someone, the fact that you are all at this group means that you all want to be social and you all have this common interest so you’re already off to a good start,” she says.

Her life hack for finding friends or fostering a sense of social connection? Find something you like to do and a place where other people with the same interests are — which certainly works to promote play. Instead of languishing at home, get out and find someone to play with. Some ideas:

Archery

Why not take a stab at something new? Historically used for combat and hunting, the practice of shooting an arrow with a bow is now mostly reserved for target shooting as a sport or recreation.

Similar to martial arts, horseback riding and racquet sports, there’s both a physical and a mental component to archery that demands both focus and agility. Plus, as a sport it’s often played in teams, so there’s a social dimension.

A number of nonprofit clubs offer lessons for beginners, including the Pasadena Roving Archers, who provide the equipment and a lesson for first-timers on certain Saturday mornings in the Lower Arroyo public park, and the South Bay Archery Club in Palos Verdes.

Art classes

Art therapy has long been used to improve physical, mental and emotional well-being, and studies show that even a passive engagement with art affects the prefrontal cortex of the brain — the part that regulates emotions, thoughts and behaviors.

Trying out some mode of visual art — drawing, painting, printmaking, crafts, ceramics — offers an opportunity for self-expression and socialization through taking a class. Municipal organizations offer a host of affordable options for all ages, as do art museums, or join a community group that’s working in a particular medium.

The Southern California Plein Air Painters Association hosts “paint outs” in parks, nature preserves and even at the San Clemente Pier, where people get together to paint outdoors (they also host Zoom gatherings). POT, a community ceramics studio with locations in LA’s Echo Park and Mid City, offers ongoing pottery classes in English and Spanish — and, for those who just want to drop-in, a range of fun, one-time workshops.

Book clubs and writing workshops

Word play counts as play — there doesn’t have to be a physical dimension to reap the benefits of play — plus, having the same reading material serve as a center for discussion means there’s no struggling to find commonalities for conversation.

Public libraries and independent bookstores host open book groups that serve a range of interests and genres. For example, the Newport Beach Public Library Foundation offers a free book discussion group. Skylight Books, located in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, offers 15 different affiliated clubs, plus two more book clubs run by the store.

The Southern California News Group offers Bookish, a free monthly virtual author interview program with a lively online discussion. Also subscribe to the free weekly newsletter The Book Pages, which frequently includes information on ways to connect with the literary community.

Want to be a writer yourself? Check out some of the free writing workshops at the Venice-based nonprofit Beyond Baroque, or explore the offerings of Riverside’s Inlandia Institute. Independent Writers of Southern California is another avenue for writerly connections.

Community gardening

Gardening is outdoor exercise that benefits physical health, and studies show it also boosts moods and helps with anxiety.

Community gardens offer the opportunity to reap these benefits while also meeting neighbors, who share plant knowledge and food with each other. Find one through organizations like the Los Angeles Community Garden Council, the Long Beach Community Garden Association, or UC’s Master Gardner’s Association.

Or, look for volunteer opportunities and workshops at nearby public gardens. Pasadena’s Arlington Gardens welcomes novice green thumbs on Tuesdays and on weekends to work on projects, and the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust operates programming with classes and learning opportunities at community gardens across Los Angeles.

And, if an at-home option works better for you, another free virtual program by the Southern California News Group, Garden Party, might help you connect while offering lots to learn. Past shows are available, with a new series launching in January with columnist Laura Simpson.

Game nights

From classic board games and giant Jenga to trivia nights and Dungeons & Dragons, venues across the Southland host theme nights dedicated to getting patrons to play. Look to local bars, breweries, boba and tea cafes, coffee shops, restaurants, museums, recreation centers and parks for free events. It can be as casual as chess in West Hollywood’s Plummer Park or family game night in neighborhood parks in the city of Lakewood, to a special “Flower Hour,” game night at Claremont’s California Botanic Garden.

Geocaching

For those not familiar, geocaching is a worldwide, continuous scavenger hunt that uses GPS equipment (mostly smartphones) to track down and find “caches” hidden in public spaces. An app tells seekers how many caches are nearby, and the treasure hunt begins. Once found, the seekers sign a log IRL that stays with the cache (or online), but be sure to put it back so other explorers can continue to play. Sometimes the cache has tiny treasures inside that players can take or trade for, leaving their own gifts inside.

Provided the rules are followed correctly — the California Department of Parks and Recreation website has guidelines for how to geocache without damaging ecosystems — this fun activity promotes both physical movement, puzzle-solving skills, and connecting with strangers. And, it can be done alongside other geocachers as well.

Hiking clubs

Outdoor exercise plus community and time in nature? All of these make for good play, so joining one of the many groups dedicated to exploring some of Southern California’s stunning hiking trails is a great way to get connected to people and places.

From an urban trek to the Hollywood sign in Griffith Park to traversing more strenuous routes in the San Gabriel Mountains, there’s a wealth of options for all abilities. Many groups inspire greater diversity and inclusion such as Black Girls Trekkin’, Latino Outdoors and Women Who Hike. Many land and environmental conservation organizations, including the California State Parks and the Sierra Club, offer resources to help find guided hikes.

Jam sessions/group music lessons

Music brings people together — and it’s not just Beyoncé and Taylor Swift who prove it.

Research studies in neuroscience show that performing music together triggers endorphin release in the brain, which plays a role in forming social bonds and connection. And, while singing together inside can be a concern due to the transmission of respiratory viruses, playing music together outdoors is one way to forge new connections and reap the brain benefits of play and music.

Look for outdoor community concerts, and even join in — some long-standing drum circles meet weekly, including ones on Sundays in L.A.’s Leimert Park and Griffith Park.

 

Lawn and racquet sports

Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in America for good reason: it’s an outdoor exercise that is accessible (there’s a low barrier to entry in terms of cost and skills) and allows socializing at the same time (the close net play allows participants to talk throughout the game). The stereotype of it being a sport only for seniors is wrong — recent data shows the average age of a pickleball player is 34 and the fastest-growing segment of players are under 24.

With all the buzz, it’s time to raise the profile of the similarly accessible sports of badminton, bocce, lawn bowling and ping-pong — all of which can be played with minimal equipment in parks. Some public parks already have the facilities (just bring paddles, racquets, balls or shuttlecocks), and there are many community clubs for enthusiasts.

Museum docents

Training as a docent for a local cultural organization or museum provides preparation to talk to new people — there are outlines and scripts from educators to guide the presentations and conversations, so it’s an opportunity to learn more about a subject of interest and a way to meet other folks interested in the same subject.

For history buffs, there’s training to lead tours of historic sites with organizations including Hollywood Heritage, Los Angeles Conservancy, Riverside’s Mission Inn Museum, or LA’s Central Library, which offers a docent program for volunteers interested in the library’s art and architecture.

Similarly, museums of all kinds offer extensive training courses, including Santa Ana’s Bowers Museum of Cultural Art, the Getty, Orange County Museum of Art and USC’s Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena.

Volunteering

From fostering pets and helping at animal shelters to stocking food banks and participating in community clean-ups, community service helps build social connection, and (as numerous studies have concluded) also improves physical and mental health for the person volunteering.

Not only does volunteer work offer a chance to meet new neighbors and expand social networks, it also encourages people to engage with individuals who have different experiences than their own.

Wordle

Here’s one that doesn’t require leaving home and is endorsed by Dr. Laugeson: do the daily Wordle. “I’m obsessed with Wordle, and I even looked this up: 14% of Americans play Wordle on a regular basis. That’s a lot of people … and it’s a form of play,” she says.

While doing the daily Wordle might seem solitary, posting the results on social media spurs online conversation. Laugeson, like many players, also shares the results of her Wordle with people in her social circle. “I mean, I’m guaranteed to hear from my mother daily through our Wordle. If I didn’t hear from her, I would be concerned.”

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