Loneliness is defined as “how people perceive their experience and whether they feel they lack connections, companionships or a sense of belonging.” It relates to the quality of relationships, not the size, as people with vast social media networks can feel empty & disconnected. Chronic loneliness is defined by Italian researcher Capioppo as “a debilitating psychological condition characterized by a deep sense of emptiness, worthlessness, lack of control and personal threat.” Worthlessness is related to self esteem, and the lower your self esteem, the harder it is to connect. It’s like that feeling of “why would any club want me as a member?” He continues that a “sense of social connectedness serves as a scaffold for the self; damage to the scaffold and the rest of the self begins to crumble.” Click Here for a questionnaire you can take if you want to see if you are at risk for loneliness:
There are several difference types of loneliness as cited In the article “The Loneliness Cure: How to Make Connections that Count”.
- New Situation loneliness—you’ve moved, changed jobs, divorced, retired—don’t know anybody.
- I’m Different loneliness—no one here is like me; no one has my interests or values
- No-Sweetheart loneliness—I don’t have the intimate attachment of a romantic partner, or I don’t feel connected to my partner
- No-Animal loneliness—I don’t have a companion animal to sustain me
- No-Time-For-You loneliness—Friends are too busy for me, or I no longer have much in common with my former friends; connections don’t feel meaningful
- Casual-Friends loneliness—I have friends, but it seems superficial; I don’t really trust or confide in them; I can’t be myself totally, even if I’m having fun with them.
- Quiet-Presence loneliness—I don’t have someone to hang out with at home—have tea with, or chat on the couch.
Loneliness is a social health issue, and is worse for health than obesity. Prolonged isolation has a health risk equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day! The stress hormone cortisol dumps into the bloodstream, not only neutralizing body feeling-good chemicals (endorphins) but also lowering human system functioning. We sicker quicker, and feel sicker longer. Anxiety, depression, and cognitive decline happen sooner. We cope by eating more, watching TV, sleeping to escape, drinking more alcohol, and withdrawing from connection with others.
Divorce is a big predictor of loneliness. 46% of separated or divorced and 51% of never married people are lonely. Thirty one percent of married adults are lonely, with marital satisfaction strongly linked to loneliness. About half of adults who are very or somewhat dissatisfied with their partner are lonely, compared to about 25% who report very or somewhat satisfied. If you have been divorced 9 years or less, you are more likely to be lonely that if you have been divorced over a decade. While you may think that older people might be lonelier than younger people, the reality is that almost half of adults age 45-49 years old are lonely, compared to about a quarter of those 70 or more. As you might suspect, the former age group is frequently at the stage of life where divorce happens more often as the kids leave home, and it feels like you are starting over.
The loneliest of all are Generation Z, ages 18-22. This group is at the highest risk of the health and mental health consequences of loneliness. They were raised on social media, they text instead of talk, and they compare themselves to others online. Problems with self-esteem, anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts plague many of these young people. It is crucial that we learn ways to connect in real time, and model for our children how to do that in a technological sophisticated, complicated, fast-paced world.
What to do about loneliness?
Here are some ideas for what to do about loneliness:
- Talk to strangers—seriously!
- Schedule face-to-face time with others, or even FaceTime on a phone call
- Create smaller social networks, like an online book club to share meaningful personal reactions with a select group of people (sharing fun family vacation photos with the world on Facebook is not connecting authentically)
- Be a good neighbor and get to know yours
- Throw a dinner party—sharing food is a form of social glue
- Participate in the creative arts—express yourself and get connected as others join in
- Talk with someone about feeling lonely; you’d be surprised how many others also feel that way; listen to a podcast or YouTube about how to conquer loneliness.
- Hug, hold hands or just pat someone on the back—physical contact is soothing and connecting and lowers stress responses in our bodies.
- Public libraries have enormous information about activities all over the city; stop in and ask a librarian for ideas.
- Take a class—google any kind of class you want, find one that interests you and show up!
- Give enough sleep. You have sleep apnea or insomnia, go see your doctor.
- Exercise—even walking briskly creates endorphins that neutralize the stress hormone cortisol.
- Learn about good nutrition—serotonin and dopamine—the primary feel-good chemicals are synthesized in the gut. If you are depressed or anxious, good nutrition is the place to start.
- Move to a community with people your age and organized activities where people can connect.
- Help your child make friends—invite people over, meet their school mates parents, arrange play dates. Get professional help for your teens if they are showing signs of social isolation or loneliness.
- If your marriage is stagnant or troubled, find a good marriage and family therapist in your community and go. If your spouse won’t go, go by yourself. 85% of depression in women is connected to the status of their relationships.
- If you are a man, find a therapist who works with men, and get into a good men’s therapy group, where you will learn how to be vulnerable and authentic.