The danger of loneliness …

Photo by Steve Halama on

Photo by Steve Halama on

“Feeling lonely can pose a bigger risk for premature death than smoking or obesity”
(Holt-Lunstad, 2010).

Loneliness can be associated with poorer cardiovascular health and, in old age, a faster rate of cognitive decline and dementia. Loneliness has become a health issue.

The two age groups most affected by this may surprise you.

Loneliness impacts the most vulnerable, being the young (aged 15 – 25 years) and the old (aged 75 and over).

What is loneliness?
A UK Campaign to End Loneliness, describes loneliness as an emotional response to a perceived mismatch between the amount of personal contact a person wants and the amount they have.

There are two types of loneliness: individual and social.

  • Individual loneliness is the absence of someone special. This is when a person misses someone they have a close emotional bond with like a partner or a close friend.
  • Social loneliness is the absence of a social network. Such networks may be made up of groups of friends, neighbours and colleagues.

These absences mean missing valued connections with other people.

The loneliness antidote is connection
Social connection is important. It is made harder by isolation. Isolation amongst older people is understandable as they become less able to get around and perhaps are less interested in creating new connections. It seems (to me) harder to understand the prevalence of loneliness amongst young people. We could assume that they are very social – especially with lots of social media interaction.

It makes me wonder though, of the value of social media for human connection needs. What’s missing from socialising via technology is tonal value. The smile. Tone of voice. Facial expressions. All the things that we humans do when we relate face-to-face. They give us innate feedback about our impact on others, and theirs on us. 

We are reciprocal beasts. Reciprocity is key to effective connection. Relationships need to be reciprocal. Those involved need to be engaged in sharing. That can be sharing a sense of happiness, satisfaction and/or working on or doing something together. This is the value of connection. Effective connection provides a way for reciprocity to be experienced.

The only way to have a friend is to be one.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Being wise about social media
Social media can be a great way to tap into groups of people with similar interests. They provide tools for initiating contact and facilitating connections. Platforms like Meetups offer ways of connecting with like-minded folk. They say:

Meetup is a platform for finding and building local communities. People use Meetup to meet new people, learn new things, find support, get out of their comfort zones, and pursue their passions, together.
Find out more about them here.

After finding your kind of group, you need to make the connection real, off-line. This means meeting and doing the face-to-face test of whether the group or individuals offer something for you. I think this is really important. It is also the scariest bit. The best way to manage it, is taking small steps – having a brief encounter. Committing to short meetings enables you to test the connection potential.

Other ways to connect include:

  • volunteering to help others or a cause you support
  • joining community groups like service clubs, book clubs, knitting circles, Men’s Sheds
  • participating in activities like Park Run that offers free weekly timed events all over the world

Reciprocity is most likely to result from connections to communities.

We can all fight against loneliness by engaging in random acts of kindness.
~ Gail Honeyman

Other ways loneliness can be overcome:

  • Connect or reconnect with friends and family
    Staying in contact with loved ones can prevent loneliness and isolation. If your family doesn’t live nearby, technology can help you stay in touch.
  • Get out and about
    Regular outings for social functions, exercise, visiting friends, doing shopping, or simply going to public places can help.
  • Get involved in your community
    Try a new (or old) hobby, join a club, enrol in study, or learn a new skill. Try looking online, at your local TAFE/Community College, library or community centre for things in your area that might be interesting to you.
  • Consider getting a pet
    Pets are wonderful companions and can provide comfort and support during times of stress, ill-health or isolation.
  • Get support
    If loneliness and social isolation are causing you distress, you should discuss your concerns with a GP, counsellor or a trusted person
    (Sourced from Lifeline)

Information sources:

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