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The History of Loneliness

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/04/06/the-history-of-loneliness

newyorker.com

The History of Loneliness
Until a century or so ago, almost no one lived alone; now many endure shutdowns and lockdowns on their own. How did modern life get so lonely? The female chimpanzee at the Philadelphia Zoological Garden died of complications from a cold early in the morning of December 27, 1878.

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Loneliness before quarantine

We crave intimacy. And yet, long before the present pandemic, with its forced isolation and social distancing, humans had begun building their own separate cells. 

Before modern times, very few human beings lived alone.

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Loneliness is a form of grief

It is an umbrella term we use to cover for all sorts of things most people would rather not name and have no idea how to fix.
Plenty of people like to be alone. But solitude and seclusion are different from loneliness. Loneliness is a state of profound distress.

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The evolutionary theory of loneliness

Primates need to belong to an intimate social group in order to survive; this is especially true for humans.
Separation from your group (either finding yourself alone or finding yourself among a group of people who do not know and understand you) triggers a fight-or-flight response.

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Reacting with our bodies

Our bodies perceive being alone (or with strangers) as an emergency. Thus, our nervous system evolved to produce the anxiety we associate with loneliness.
We breathe fast, our heart races, our blood pressure rises, we don’t sleep. We act fearful, defensive, and self-involved, all of which drive away people who might actually want to help, and tend to stop lonely people from doing what would benefit them most: reaching out to others.

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Modern loneliness

Modern loneliness

According to historian Fay Bound Alberti, modern loneliness is the child of capitalism and secularism.
Many of the divisions and hierarchies that have developed since the 18th century (between the individual and the world, individual and community, public and private) have been naturalized through the politics and philosophy of individualism.

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Statistics

  • Before the 20thcentury, about 5% of all households (about 1% of the world population) consisted of just one person. That figure began rising around 1910, driven by urbanization, the decline of live-in servants, a declining birth rate, and the replacement of the traditional, multigenerational family with the nuclear family.
  • During the past half century, for the first time in human history, great numbers of people (of all ages, in all places, of every political preference) have begun settling down as singletons.

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The tragedy of loneliness

... is that lonely people can’t see that lots of people feel the same way they do.
Loneliness seems to be such a painful, frightening experience that people will do anything to avoid it. We shut down the lonely, afraid that this might be some kind of a contagious situation.

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SIMILAR ARTICLES & IDEAS:

Loneliness Is a State of Mind

Loneliness, according to many experts, is not necessarily about being alone. Instead, if you feel alone and isolated, then that is how loneliness plays into your state of mind....

Causes

  • Loneliness is strongly connected to genetics. 
  • Situational variables, such as physical isolation, moving to a new location, divorce and the death of someone significant in a person's life can also lead to feelings of loneliness. 
  • Loneliness can be a symptom of a psychological disorder such as depression.
  • Loneliness can also be attributed to internal factors such as low self-esteem.

Health Risks Associated With Loneliness

Loneliness has a wide range of negative effects on both physical and mental health, including:

  • Depression and suicide
  • Cardiovascular disease and stroke
  • Increased stress levels
  • Decreased memory and learning
  • Antisocial behavior
  • Poor decision-making
  • Alcoholism and drug abuse
  • The progression of Alzheimer's disease
  • Altered brain function

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The epidemic of loneliness

The elderly are lonely. Teens are lonely. People in cities and rural areas are lonely to such an extent that it is considered a public health issue.

One report found that nearly half of r...

Practice small talk

Talk to people you encounter throughout your day. When you enter a coffee shop, make a simple comment about the weather to make impersonal interactions a bit more friendly.

If you practice this small talk in a variety of situations, it's easier to start a conversation with people you want to get to know better.

Get comfortable

Many people desire any company because they don't like the discomfort when they are alone.

Learn to enjoy your own company. Start by reading, watching TED Talks that will make you think, or start a gratitude journal.

Becoming less lonely

Ventilen, or “friend to one” in Danish, is an organization that helps 15-to-25-year-olds get together twice a week with two or three volunteers. Together, the people in the group play games, make ...

The prevalence of loneliness

Loneliness is becoming an "epidemic" and is associated with illnesses like heart disease, dementia, depression, anxiety, and longevity.

  • One study revealed that 22% of Americans, 23% of Brits, and 9% of Japanese adults said they felt lonely all the time.
  • 40% of people aged 16 - 24 said they were often lonely, according to the BBC.

Coming together

Back in 1999, a support group called Bright Point was formed to fill the need of friends. But when people came together, no one talked. It was only after games were introduced as a catalyst that friendships started forming. Later, making meals and exercising was added successfully.

The program is not without challenges. Many lonely people may feel intimidated and won't attend. But designating a space for gathering and activities is a good step toward tackling loneliness.