This simple 10-minute activity can beat loneliness, finds study

By Sayujya S, Desk Reporter
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The pandemic and subsequent lockdown and social distancing measures have made all of us feel lonely at one point or another.

But a new study has revealed that talking to someone on the phone for 10 minutes multiple times a week, if you’re in control of the conversation, can decrease loneliness.

The study

According to a study published recently, half of the 240 study participants were selected to receive brief phone calls from volunteers over the course of a month, and they reported feeling 20 percent less lonely on average as long as they were in control of the conversation.

“Sometimes the agenda is just feeling like they have control,” said lead study author Maninder Kahlon, associate professor of population health at The University of Texas. They might not have control in other aspects of their lives, but they can control the conversation, she said.

The first week, volunteers called participants five days during the week at times the participants said were best for them. In the subsequent weeks, participants chose whether to receive as few as two calls per week or as many as five. Conversations were a little over 10 minutes the first week, Ms. Kahlon said. Participants talked about a variety of subjects including their own daily lives and asked about their volunteers’ lives.

Both the participants who received phone calls and the control group who did not have loneliness, anxiety and depression were measured on scientific scales at the start and end of the month. Researchers also measured the study subjects’ anxiety and depression because those disorders could also be affected by the calls, Ms. Kahlon said.

Amazing results

On a Loneliness Scale, which ranges from three to nine, phone call participants averaged 6.5 at the beginning and ended with 5.2.

There is no standardized way to interpret how much of a shift is clinically meaningful, Ms. Kahlon said, but the participants’ numbers dropped a significant amount “so that means we really made a meaningful impact on them,” she said.

Anxiety and depression saw an even greater decrease, with an over 30 percent decrease on the scale. Those results were “even more striking than the loneliness impact because we hadn’t necessarily expected that degree of results,” Ms. Kahlon said.

Reach out

It’s important to reach out to family and friends in your life who you see might be feeling low, Ms. Kahlon said. If you’re feeling lonely, she recommended reaching out to someone in your family and friend networks who you trust to talk to them. It can be difficult because “the reality is, this can only happen if there’s someone else who takes an interest in you,” she said. She suggested looking at your network and reaching out to who you believe will be “non-judgmental and truly interested in hearing you out.”

Ms. Kahlon’s goal is to continue testing this program method and applying it on a larger scale so more people can benefit from the findings.

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