The Loneliness Epidemic

According to the research presented at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, loneliness and social isolation appears to be much of a greater risk in public health when compared to obesity. This is a huge concern as the effects of loneliness are being increasingly felt within the younger generation. Before discussing some of the ways of combating loneliness, we will first need to understand what ‘loneliness’ means to us. 

Loneliness is a common experience affecting approximately 42.6 million adults over age 45 in the United States. People may experience loneliness when they find themselves in a new town after moving away from home, missing old friends or perhaps being reminded of someone whom they have lost whether through death or after a relationship breakup.

Loneliness is described as a subjective state of mind; negative feelings associated with loneliness arises when the individual perceives his/ her social or emotional needs are not being met. Some people who are able to live in solitary lives without and not feel lonely, whereas others may have many people around them in a daily basis but still feel lonely. 

In other words, loneliness is UNWANTED solitude.  

How does loneliness affect us?

  • Chronic loneliness has been found to be correlated with depression. This means that a person who perceived themselves as socially isolated may become depressed, and/ or the person who is depressed may isolate themselves from family and friends, which in turn increases the sense of loneliness.
  • Chronic loneliness can have a detrimental effect on our cognition, makes us age faster and weaken our immune system. Moreover, illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and inflammatory disease are exacerbated in the presence of subjective social isolation.
  • Chronic loneliness can make us feel more negative, fragile and self-critical.  We may feel more sensitive to reading the wrong cues from people and be less accepting of potential new friends because of anxiety or fear of rejection.  This can turn into a vicious circle and distort our thinking and behaviour.

Click to watch Kurtzesagt video on Loneliness Explained in a Nutshell

How can we prevent and combat the feeling of loneliness?

1. Go offline and connect physically with real people

It is an irony that the use of technology which has connected us online through the internet with more people than ever before, has made 3 times more likely to feel socially isolated than those who use less social media!  The reason for the inability to form deeper connections with people is because of the lack of physical presence with them.  Photos of other people enjoying themselves on picture perfect places may also cause a pang of jealousy and make us feel inadequate.  As such, do make an effort to log off the social media and make an effort to meet new people through volunteering work, sports, hobbies or other activities which you have an interest in such as walking, hiking or even cycling groups.    

2. Share something about yourself

In order to develop deeper and more meaningful connections with other people, it is important to be open and share something about yourself.  This may include sharing your likes, interests, opinions and values on subjects such as food, movies, books or hobbies.  Being true to yourself helps build more real and meaningful relationships with other people who in turn are more likely to reciprocate.

3. Practice Self-love and Kindness

Most people blame themselves for being in a lonely situation.  Thoughts like ‘I should have spent more time with my friends’ or ‘I should not have focus so much time on my career but instead spend those precious time with my family and friends’ or ‘If only I am good at talking or interacting with people’ often crop up in people’s mind.  Instead of engaging with such negative self-talk, learn to practice self-kindness by engaging in self-care activities.

4. Have a pet

Having the unconditional love and constant companionship of a pet helps to curb the sense of loneliness.  It also helps you keep active and motivated because you may need to take the pet for grooming or walks.  Join a pet owner group and you may be surprised how friendly pet owners can be!

5. Have a chat with a mental health professional

Sometimes, you just need a little extra bit of help to help you overcome loneliness.  Do not hesitate to connect with a counsellor or psychologist to help uncover the root causes of your loneliness and guide you back to improve your social skills in various settings.

Disclaimer. TELEME blog posts contains general information about health conditions and treatments. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. The information is not advice and should not be treated as such. 

If you think you may be suffering from any medical condition, you should seek immediate medical attention from your doctor or other professional healthcare providers. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment because of information on this website.

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