Being lonely affects our physical and mental health. According to health professionals, loneliness is growing epidemic.
Every day, 63 percent of Americans log into at least one social media site, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. Many people log in multiple times a day.
Yet, despite the many convenient and easy ways we stay connected, more people are voicing their distress of suffering from extreme loneliness.
Being lonely is an unpleasant experience. And loneliness can have long-term health consequences.
Psychologist Amy Sullivan, PsyD says, “Loneliness is an epidemic. We’re the most socially connected society, yet so many people experience extreme loneliness.”
Dr. Sullivan makes clear that loneliness isn’t the same thing as social isolation. It’s more about how an individual perceives his or her level of connectedness to others.
“Someone who’s socially isolated and doesn’t have a lot of social contacts may not feel lonely at all, but someone else may feel lonely even when they’re surrounded by lots of people.”
Dr. Sullivan points out how being lonely is an unfavorable health risk factor.
“We know clearly that sitting, smoking and obesity are linked to chronic disease. But I think of loneliness as another risk factor for chronic health conditions.”
Loneliness is a risk factor for more serious mental health conditions, like anxiety and depression.
In addition, being lonely adversely affects our bodies, according to Dr. Sullivan.
“When you’re experiencing loneliness, your levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, go up. Cortisol can impair cognitive performance, compromise the immune system, and increase your risk for vascular problems, inflammation and heart disease.”
Here are a few suggestions on how to break away from being lonely.
- Try to understand the health impacts of being lonely. Many people who are concerned and take care of their health by exercising and eating well ignore this important aspect of health and wellness. But social connection is just as important as following a healthy diet and getting enough sleep.
- Focus on quality, not quantity. A lunch or dinner date with a friend with whom you have a genuine connection will do more to suppress your loneliness than having thousands of Instagram followers or Facebook friends.
- Take a social media break. Health professionals are finding out that when people pull away from social media, they become much more deliberate in seeking out real relationships.
- Do random acts of kindness or small favors for people. Doing for others is powerful and helps to improve your connection with people. In addition, as you give to others, it also takes your mind off yourself.
- Strive for greater social connection. Plan to spend time with a friend instead of catching up via text messages. Consider a phone conversation over an email to help you feel more connected. Small daily decisions can also help. Instead of sending an email or instant message, make a point of walking down the hall to speak to a coworker.
- It’s important to be more aware of your feelings. On occasion, it’s normal to feel lonely. However, if you’re noticing that you feel lonely more often than not, it’s in your best interest to take action.
- Seek out a professional counselor if you think you may need one. Feeling and being lonely is sometimes a symptom of depression. A therapist can help you work through the loneliness you’re experiencing. A professional counselor can also help you develop strategies for reconnecting with others.
Build Strong and Authentic Social Connections
You could have people around you throughout the day. You could be in a relationship with someone you love or even be in a lifelong marriage. Nevertheless, you may still experience a deep, pervasive loneliness.
Isolation can have a serious detrimental effect on a person’s physical and mental health. If you’re feeling lonely most of the time, you may need to get out of your comfort zone in order to build strong, and authentic social connections.
Dr. Amy Sullivan offers this final suggestion on breaking the vicious cycle of being lonely.
“I think it can be scary for people to reach out. If you put yourself out there then there’s a risk of rejection. But in the end, the payoff is much greater than the risk.”