Is loneliness and a feeling of disconnected isolation a greater threat to our health than we realize? Recent research studies conclude that loneliness and the feeling of being separated from society is an even greater health threat than obesity.
When we think of loneliness, we tend to picture shy and withdrawn people who lack good social skills. But, it’s important to realize that loneliness doesn’t come as a result of being shy and it can actually affect anyone. Have you ever felt homesick or dejected because you’ve been ignored or left out? Those are actually forms of loneliness, as is the feeling of isolation and hollow ache we get when we long for acknowledgement, compassion and connection with our fellow man.
“Loneliness is a complex and usually unpleasant emotional response to isolation. Loneliness typically includes anxious feelings about a lack of connection or communication with other beings, both in the present and extending into the future. As such, loneliness can be felt even when surrounded by other people. The causes of loneliness are varied and include social, mental, emotional and physical factors.”
Now the Irony
Loneliness is actually a necessary feeling, but is one you ignore at your own peril. When we feel lonely, it’s a sign that we need to do something about it. Since humans are social by nature, feeling lonely is an alarm bell that we need to get connected to others.
Loneliness can result in mental health problems, but also in physical ones too — high blood pressure and substance abuse are but two risks associated with loneliness.
Being alone vs. feeling lonely
To be happy, we need intimate bonds; we need to be able to confide, we need to feel like we belong, we need to be able to get and give support. In fact, strong relationships are key — perhaps the key — to a happy life.
Of course, being alone and being lonely aren’t the same. Loneliness feels draining, distracting, and upsetting; desired solitude feels peaceful, creative, restorative. – Gretchen Rubin, Psychology Today
WASHINGTON — Loneliness and social isolation may represent a greater public health hazard than obesity, and their impact has been growing and will continue to grow, according to research presented at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association.
“Being connected to others socially is widely considered a fundamental human need — crucial to both well-being and survival. Extreme examples show infants in custodial care who lack human contact fail to thrive and often die, and indeed, social isolation or solitary confinement has been used as a form of punishment,” said Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, professor of psychology at Brigham Young University. “Yet an increasing portion of the U.S. population now experiences isolation regularly.”
Approximately 42.6 million adults over age 45 in the United States are estimated to be suffering from chronic loneliness, according to AARP’s Loneliness Study. In addition, the most recent U.S. census data shows more than a quarter of the population lives alone, more than half of the population is unmarried and, since the previous census, marriage rates and the number of children per household have declined. – American Psychological Association
“These trends suggest that Americans are becoming less socially connected and experiencing more loneliness. There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase risk for premature mortality, and the magnitude of the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators.” – Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad
But what about Facebook?
In my opinion, more people are feeling lonely due to the rise in online social media. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are very convenient for staying in touch, but they’re no substitute for real, face-to-face human interaction.
One of the ironies of overusing social media is that instead of making someone feel more socially connected, the latest research suggests that heavy use of social media can exacerbate feelings of social isolation. – Psychology Today
Resource: Read, Harvard Study Reveals the Secrets to a Happy Life
If we feel lonely, we should try to determine why and seek to remedy that, either by getting out there and connecting with friends and family, or by seeking the help of a qualified mental health expert. Likewise, if we know of someone who be isolated and feeling lonely, such as a house-bound elderly person, we should try to connect with them — that could be as simple as a regular “drop-by,” inviting them to dinner, or even calling them regularly.
Loneliness is a terrible feeling that I would never wish on anybody. If you do know of a lonely person, please think about reaching out to them to let them know you care.