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What is loneliness? Why is it so bad now?

In the age of technology, we are more connected than ever, so why do many people still struggle with loneliness? First, let’s define loneliness. Loneliness is need of human connection but not being able to have it. It is a subjective experience and is not the consequence of being physically alone. If you feel lonely, you are lonely. Loneliness occurs when someone perceives their relationships as not fulfilling their social needs. Dr. Andrew Wister from Simon Fraser University believes social media may be partly fueling loneliness by creating a false sense of multiple connections. The list of friends you turn to for social needs is much smaller than your friends list on social media.

What are the negative results of loneliness?

Chronic loneliness is not only emotionally draining; it is a physical health risk. Researchers have likened loneliness to being as detrimental to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Interestingly, brain imaging studies show that social rejection (loneliness) activates the same brain areas as physical pain. Those who are chronically lonely experience anxiety, depression, and may feel physically ill. Loneliness can also be a vicious cycle. Those who have been lonely for long periods of time become better at noticing social cues but are worse at interpreting them. To make matters worse, the person experiencing loneliness is more likely to interpret social cues negatively making them feel more isolated.

Check out Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection by neuroscientist John Capiocco and author William Patrick for an in-depth look into the effects of loneliness.

Are you lonely? How do you deal with this?

It is important to accept that feeling lonely is a normal human experience, and there is nothing wrong with you if you experience feelings of loneliness. If you tend to prejudge people’s intentions as negative, or assume social situations are going to go terribly, you may be lonely. Taking time to reflect upon previous interactions with people is helpful in parsing out the negative from the positive. Not every interaction is negative! To build social connections it is imperative to get yourself out there. Go to an event you’ve wanted to go to, or invite someone out for a coffee. If someone reaches out to you, try stepping out of your comfort zone and go with them. Even if a lasting friendship doesn’t emerge, you will have succeeded in practicing your social skills which are useful for future connections.

Expert in the field, Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad discusses living in a lonely world here

Some useful Resources:

Loneliness: The Silent Health Crisis
Loneliness is literally killing us
Loneliness: the silent killer

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