61% of Young Adults and 51% of moms with young kids feel “serious loneliness”. – Harvard Report
This statistic blows me away. In the midst of what feels like a never-ending pandemic, people are feeling more loneliness than ever.
According to Louise Hawkley Ph.D., principal research scientist at NORC at the University of Chicago loneliness occurs when there is a perceived discrepancy between what we want and what we have in our relationships.
So it’s not about the quantity of connections we have, but more about the quality of our relationships. We feel lonely when we’re not getting the level of emotional support we crave.
We know from all kinds of scientific and anecdotal research that loneliness is not good for our mental health or wellness. Research shows that loneliness is linked to early mortality and serious health issues including depression, anxiety, heart disease, and substance abuse.
In fact, loneliness has similar or greater health risks as smoking, drinking and obesity. Additional studies have shown that social isolation worsens cognitive abilities and accelerates aging.
Whew! That’s not a whole lot of positivity.
However, Hawkley goes on to explain that loneliness as an upside and that is, it may motivate you to take action. She says, “Loneliness is adaptive and evolutionary. It’s a nudge to get out there because you need something. In that way, it’s like hunger or thirst.” In essence, loneliness is your brain forcing you to establish strong social connections to survive and thrive.
Here are some techniques for combating loneliness. Try and see what works for you:
- Admit you are lonely
LABELING our feelings may reduce their intensity.
- Realize it’s something most of us experience occasionally
I.e. you are not alone.
- Reframe your responses to situations
When someone is not responding to you like you expect, is it really you? Or something going on with them?
- Take a chance
Are you anticipating rejection? You have to put yourself out there and take the risks.
Try a new group activity – book club, yoga class, dog park meetup – what are you passionate about? Check Facebook or Meet up groups for options.
- Do something for others
Volunteering helps us feel connected to the community at large. Helping others takes the focus off of yourself
- Adopt a furry family member
Pets are good for us – reduced blood pressure, heart rate, and levels of anxiety, stress, and loneliness
Studies show even gazing into your dog’s eyes releases the feel-good hormone oxytocin. No word yet on whether you can get your cat to sit there long enough to look into your eyes.
- Get outdoors
Gardening is good for mental and physical health
- Express gratitude
Start a gratitude practice – journal, jar, post on social media, or do a gratitude meditation
- Cut back on Social Media
Face it, most of us don’t want to be on social media as much as we are. So, feel free to delete the app from your phone, set time limits around usage, or put your phone in another part of the house for a specific period of time.
- Don’t use technology to replace personal contact
Research shows us that in-person interactions are better at helping us maintain strong mental health. Use technology to supplement, not replace, personal interactions with others.
- Know when to get some help
You don’t have to go through this alone. There are always people you can talk to. Talk to a good friend or find a counselor or coach who can help you develop positive practices that will minimize the length and number of times you feel lonely.
Still feeling lonely? Schedule some time to chat with me. Your confidentiality is of the utmost importance. I’m here to help.