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Understanding the Loneliness Epidemic

Young and lonely

Generation Z (ages 18-22) had the highest loneliness scores, followed by the millennials (ages 23-37). The Greatest Generation (adults ages 72 and older) were the least lonely. 

Lonely people are less able to pick up on positive social stimuli, like others’ attention and commitment signals, so they withdraw prematurely – in many cases before they’re actually socially isolated.

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Understanding the Loneliness Epidemic

Understanding the Loneliness Epidemic

https://psychcentral.com/blog/understanding-the-loneliness-epidemic/

psychcentral.com

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Key Ideas

A public health problem

Most people consider loneliness a personal problem to be figured out by individuals. 

However, a paper published in the American Journal of Public Health identified high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, disability, cognitive decline, and depression among the conditions affected by loneliness. What we have is a public health problem.

No emerging technology or drug exists on the horizon to cure loneliness. 

Don’t blame social media

Among the theories on why there is more loneliness today is more time online and less time in front of people. 

However, levels of in-person interactions, physical and mental wellness and life balance are more likely to predict loneliness than social media usage.

Young and lonely

Generation Z (ages 18-22) had the highest loneliness scores, followed by the millennials (ages 23-37). The Greatest Generation (adults ages 72 and older) were the least lonely. 

Lonely people are less able to pick up on positive social stimuli, like others’ attention and commitment signals, so they withdraw prematurely – in many cases before they’re actually socially isolated.

Loneliness and the workplace

Those who say they work just the right amount are least likely to be lonely. Both working too much and not enough, increase loneliness scores. 

Antidotes to loneliness

People who are less lonely are more likely to have regular, meaningful, in-person interactions. They are in good overall physical and mental health, have achieved balance in daily activities,  and have good relationships with their coworkers.

Regular sleep, good quality family time and the right amount of exercise lowered loneliness scores.

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Loneliness Is a State of Mind

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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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Post-Breakup Loneliness

The process of breaking up can sometimes be compared to the death of a loved one.

Transitional Loneliness

Major changes can create a sense of loneliness, even if they're positive. You might be leaving a job or starting a new job, ending a relationship or embarking on a new relationship, getting married, getting divorced, [or] starting a family.

When struggling with the adjustment period, it can help to acknowledge the feeling and also acknowledge that it's likely temporary.

Caregiver Loneliness

There's very specific loneliness that can creep in when you're responsible for the care of another person — be it an elderly parent, a sick sibling, a disabled partner, etc.

So even though it's a big job, it's important to not forget about yourself. Find a supportive friend to talk to without judgment, or attend a support group.

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Recognize the impact of loneliness

According to the Campaign to End Loneliness, loneliness can be a...

Work out exactly why you are lonely
The mental health charity Mind cites two main factors that can cause loneliness: 
  • someone either not having enough basic social contact or, 
  • despite being surrounded by people, not feeling understood, listened to or cared for. 
Working out which profile fits you best could give you a better idea of how to work through your feelings of loneliness.
Speak to someone
  • Talk to friends and family.
  • Join a club or socialize through hobbies or interests. It is a good way to meet new people and increase social interactions. 
  • Do voluntary work. It forges connections as well as makes you feel worthwhile.

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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. 

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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.

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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Studies show that older adults who are lonely see a decline in their thinking abilities, which is rapid if paired with other factors like physical inactivity, anxiety, poor sleep and high blood pressure.

Prolonged social isolation is a kind of mental stress leading to various mental and physical health issues like faster ageing, dementia and cognitive decline. It has also been linked to the factors that lead to Alzheimer’s disease, like a build-up of certain toxic proteins in the brain.

Social Activities As A Form Of Self-Care
  • The negative impact of prolonged loneliness can be curbed with maintaining high-quality relationships and social activity.
  • How we manage our feelings and relationships is important for our brain’s health.
  • Self-care is an essential component of our mental and physical health, and we have to focus our attention towards better sleep and exercise routines, healthy eating and engaging in enjoyable activities.
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.

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Detecting Loneliness
Detecting Loneliness
  • Scientific literature has linked loneliness to depression, anxiety, alcoholism, and drug abuse.
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Loneliness is subjective

It's possible to be completely isolated and feel invigorated.

It is also possible to be surrounded by a crowd or be accompanied by close friends and feel lonely.

Research on loneliness findings
  • Research showed that after social isolation, subjects' brain scans showed more activity in the midbrain when shown pictures of social cues.
  • When subjects were hungry but had not been socially isolated, they showed a similar reaction to food cues, but not social ones. This shows that the drive for social contact and for things like food seems to be represented in a similar way.

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The antidote to loneliness
The antidote to loneliness

When people were forced into social isolation, a light was also shining on another crisis - loneliness.

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Friendship

Science shows friendship is critical for our happiness, health, and longevity.

* In the 1970s and 1980s, some epidemiologists and sociologists showed that socially isolated individuals over age 66 had a 30 percent increased risk of early mortality.

* Studies reveal that social connection improves cardiovascular functioning, reduces susceptibility to inflammation and viral disease, sharpens cognition, reduces depression, lowers stress, and even slows biological aging.

Definition of friendship

Friendship requires at least three things: It should be long-lasting, positive, and cooperative. Friendship nearly always includes a willingness to help, especially in times of crisis.

In short, friendship is creating bonded groups that act as a buffer against life's stresses.

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Loneliness is a perception issue
Loneliness is a perception issue

Loneliness has more to do with our perceptions than how much company we have: it is just as possible to feel very lonely surrounded by people as it is to be content with little social contact.

Olivia Laing
Olivia Laing

“Loneliness, longing, does not mean one has failed but simply that one is alive.”

Dealing with loneliness through creativity

One way people have always dealt with loneliness is through creativity. By metamorphosing their reality into art, lonely people throughout history have managed to interchange the sense of community relationships could foster with their creative outputs.

The artist Edward Hopper (1882–1967) is known for his paintings of American cityscapes inhabited by closed-off figures who seem to embody a vision of modern loneliness.

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Loneliness

Being lonely can mean not feeling part of the world despite having a great deal of social contact with others, or being in a relationship.

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Why we become lonely

Personal Circumstances:

  • Experiencing the break down of a relationship.

  • Comparing yourself to the apparently ‘happy’ lives of others - seeing only their positives and ignoring the negatives.

  • Not having as much social contact.
  • Losing someone close to you.

Internal Loneliness: 

  • You may find it difficult to like yourself or feel others do not like you.

  • Experiencing low self-confidence.

Mental Health Conditions:

  • Experiencing a mental health condition can contribute to feelings of loneliness.

  • Social contact may be difficult and create high levels of anxiety.

  • You may find yourself unconsciously or consciously avoiding meeting people.

Practical ways of managing loneliness
  • Reconnect with the world around you - Making the most out of social contact
  • Spend meaningful time alone - this will develop your ability to manage time spent on your own.
  • Do regular physical activity.
  • Join a club, group or voluntary organization.

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