How to Combat Loneliness

What Does Loneliness Mean to Your Health

Any discussion about how to combat loneliness should be based upon a clear understanding of what loneliness is, and how it affects your health.

Loneliness is not solitude or social isolation. Solitude is an intentional time in which you pull away, separating yourself to reflect or rejuvenate. Social isolation may be the result of circumstances. Loneliness, however, is a feeling. It’s a perception that isn’t based upon any social setting or circumstance.

Feelings of loneliness are independent of whether other people are around. On the other hand, research indicates that both physical and social isolation are strong predictors of loneliness

People who are lonely can feel: as if they don’t belong; that nobody cares or knows them; isolated; ostracized; abandoned; disconnected; empty; purposeless; incomplete; like something is missing in life; out of touch; empty; unwanted; unloved; ignored; excluded; or shut out.

All of us, from all walks of life, may experience loneliness to varying degrees. Contrary to popular belief, loneliness spans all age groups, so it isn’t just an old-age problem. A recent CIGNA study of 20,000 U.S. adults found that nearly half feel like they’re alone, and it’s creating a serious health crisis.  

According to an AARP’s 2010 Loneliness Study, being lonely often goes hand in hand with poor health. Two meta-analyses found that loneliness can increase the risk of early death. It not only can speed up death in people who are ill, it puts healthy people at risk for a range of physical and mental illnesses.

According to former U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek H. Murthy, the reduction in life span for loneliness is similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day – greater than the decreased lifespan impact of obesity.

Loneliness is linked to numerous conditions such as coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, frailty and cognitive decline. It can also lead to destructive habits such as drugs, alcohol, gambling, promiscuity, shopping, and an inordinate amount of tv and screen time for those seeking escape from those feelings.

Clearly, answering the question as to how to combat loneliness is one that must be addressed as a serious, wide-scale public health problem.

Causes of Loneliness

Knowing how to combat loneliness requires understanding its causes. Being socially connected is considered a fundamental human need. The list of the causes of loneliness is quite long. It includes the following:

  • Divorce;
  • Retirement;
  • Children walking away from parents;

  • Leaving or being fired from a job;
  • Rejection by someone because they are jealous or resentful;
  • Being ostracized for being different;
  • Personal convictions or opinions;
  • Illness or loss of mobility;
  • Starting a new job or leaving an old one;
  • Age – seniors often lose connections with relatives, spouses, friends, neighbors, and co-workers;
  • Depression – can cause people to withdraw socially, which can lead to feelings of loneliness;

  • Death of friends, family, spouses – widowhood is associated with significant increases in feelings of loneliness;
  • Transitions – school to school, graduation, moves;

  • No time to build relationships because of job, things, or activities;

  • Too much on-screen time.

How to Combat Loneliness

Our thoughts affect us; and, therefore, they affect the world around us. Our brains are geared to relate to others. So, what are some of the ways in which can we make meaningful connections with other people?

The following tips may be helpful to show you how to combat loneliness in your life.

  • Try a new hobby.
  • Get a pet.
  • Go out for walks around your neighborhood or a nearby park.

  • Get to know your neighbors.
  • Join a dance class, art class, or cooking class.
  • Invite someone out for dinner or coffee.
  • Join a club that interests you.

  • Seek friends who are genuine, understanding, and love you for who you are.
  • Determine to not allow anyone or anything to drive you back into a lonely lifestyle.
  • Attend religious services. People who regularly practice religion are less likely to feel isolated, even when they’re alone.

  • Be mindful of the time you spend online and on social media. Visit only briefly and move on to something else. Although the internet can be a great resource and support system, don’t neglect face-to-face interaction for screen activities.
  • If you’re depressed, consider seeking professional help from a counselor or doctor.
  • Remember that making changes isn’t always easy; but, in this case, it is necessary.

If you recognize yourself in any of the above, or know someone who is lonely, please use and share this information. If you suspect that someone is lonely, invite them to join you for coffee. Include them in an activity or occasion so they can develop connections with other people.

Knowing what loneliness is, what it means to your health, and the causes of loneliness enables a deeper understanding of how to combat loneliness in meaningful ways.

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