Tips for overcoming loneliness during an Iowa winter

DECORAH — New studies are finding links between people who are obese and lonely who may be at risk for larger problems with their physical and mental health.

Jennifer Linse, an advanced practice social worker, says cases of loneliness often escalate in Iowa during the wintertime as more of us become socially isolated by the cold weather.

“If people are wanting to talk about loneliness or explore their feelings or experience with loneliness, I would certainly encourage them to connect with a counselor to talk about that,” Linse says. “Also, through counseling, we can help people get connected to resources or find some social supports that they’re already involved in to help with that feeling of loneliness.”

Even when we’re surrounded by other people, Linse says it’s easy to be overcome by loneliness, as we crave that contact.

“From the minute you’re born, you’re born to connect with other people,” Linse says. “Really, that’s our human experience, to be connected with others around us. We are social beings, so that’s really the essence of why this is so important — it’s that human connection.”

People who are overweight may face discrimination which can leave them with an emotional scar, something Linse says can be difficult to overcome.

“There’s this idea in our society of what the ideal person is, the way we look, the way we speak, and that includes our body image,” Linse says. “So in our society, we hear people talk and experience something that we may call fat-shaming, and that can make people feel very lonely.”

We don’t often hear health care professionals recommend Facebook as a solution to anything, but in this case, Linse says it might provide some benefit.

“Typically when we think about social media, we find it to be a very isolating experience because we’re looking at it very surface level,” Linse says, “but there are groups and activities happening online that can connect you with others. For some people, it’s just sort of dipping your toe into being with others in your community.”

Instead of reading a book at home, for example, she suggests taking the book to a library or coffee shop where you might interact with others.

Linse is an employee assistance program consultant at Gundersen Health System, which has clinics in Fayette, Decorah, Waukon, Lansing, Postville and Calmar, and a hospital in West Union.