What Is Loneliness? And What Can You Do About It?
Loneliness isn’t a new problem. Since the beginning of humanity as we know it, people have written poems, songs, and plays about being lonely. It’s an emotion that everyone will experience at some point in their lives to varying degrees, and the effects of pervasive loneliness on both physical and mental health are well documented.
However, the problem of loneliness has become even more pervasive in modern times – especially with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. So let’s take a look at what loneliness is, what you can do to fight it, and how you can help lift others out of the fog as well.
What Is Loneliness?
If we asked you what loneliness was, we would bet you’d say something about lacking social interaction. And you’d be right! One of the biggest causes of loneliness is simply not having people to interact with and enjoy. But it’s also possible to be lonely while surrounded by people. So how do we define that feeling?
According to Psychology Today, “loneliness is the state of distress or discomfort that results when one perceives a gap between one’s desires for social connection and actual experiences of it.” Of course, loneliness occurs in the absence of meaningful relationships. But you can go about your daily life surrounded by people in settings like school, work, or even at home, and still feel lonely if you’re not receiving the true social connection that we all crave.
You may be struggling with loneliness if you experience one or more of the following:
- Feeling like you lack companionship
- Feeling “out of tune” with the people around you
- Feeling left out
- Feeling like your shyness or reserved nature is preventing you from building relationships
- Feeling that you have no one to turn to
We all go through ups and downs, and loneliness often comes and goes. This is especially true when we go through big life transitions, such as moving, having a baby, or losing a loved one. Loneliness can be a terrible thing, and we encourage you to get help as soon as possible if you are struggling.
What Are Some Of The Effects Of Loneliness?
Over time, loneliness can have adverse effects on both physical and mental health. It can be a factor in causing both depression and anxiety, and it can also make it more difficult to manage both. In addition, it can contribute to a cascade of negative physical effects, including a depressed immune system, high blood pressure, insomnia, heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes, arthritis, and even Alzheimer’s disease. According to Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a leading loneliness researcher based at Brigham Young University, loneliness can have the same health effects as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.
Though everyone is susceptible to loneliness, teenagers and the elderly are consistently the most at risk.
So what can you do about loneliness, both in yourself and in others?
How You Can Overcome Loneliness
There are several concrete steps you can take to minimize your own loneliness. And, if you are worried about someone you know being lonely, you can easily adapt a lot of these action items to help them as well.
- Check In Often – It’s important to check in on your contacts as often as necessary to keep your relationship moving and fulfilling. This may be daily or weekly, via lunch, text, in-person visit, or whatever works best for the two of you. Checking in can pull double duty by helping both you and the person you’re friends with feel less lonely.
- Go Meet Your Neighbors – Bake them cookies (or pick some up at the store when you’re shopping if you’re not the baking type) and knock on their door! Even if you only visit for five minutes, you’ll now know another person that’s nearby.
- Join A Group That Shares Your Interests – maybe it’s a swim team or a pottery class or a church. Whatever it may be, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there in an attempt to find like-minded friends!
- Put Your Phone Away – When you’re with people, put your phone away and be an active listener and participant. You may not think it makes that much of a difference if you check your Facebook or reply to a text, but it does. Of course, your phone is an indispensable tool in keeping your social connections thriving – but not when you’re with a real, living, breathing human.
- Talk To A Stranger – Wait, what?! Haven’t we been told our whole lives not to talk to strangers? Well yes, but if you’re in a public place – say at the mall, at Frontier Days, at the park walking your dog, in a waiting room, in line for fast food, etc. – there’s no reason not to make a little small talk with someone. Pick a person, smile, and compliment them. Even just chatting a little can boost our moods long-term because it makes us feel connected, wanted, and useful. (Note: do use common sense when applying this one. While we think that most people are trying to do what they feel is good and right, there are still dangerous people out there, so make sure to apply this one only when you feel physically safe.)
Again, if you are struggling with loneliness or any of the issues that come with it, we encourage you to reach out to us. We are here to help you navigate the stresses of life, especially in light of recent events.