Q U O T E O F T H E W E E K
"The most terrible poverty is loneliness and the feeling of being unloved."
- Mother Theresa
We've all been there. Whether we're single or coupled, have kids or not, are connected or estranged with family, keep few friends or many, we've all experienced loneliness.
Yet we don't accept it. We ignore it or do things to keep from acknowledging it. And despite the fact it's a universal feeling, we feel shame for having it. We most often don't reach out to others for help, afraid of judgement even though they may be feeling the exact same way.
There's great irony in the fact that we retreat even further into ourselves when we're lonely, compounding the issue, when reaching out to others might alleviate the feeling.
Today I'd like to offer some insights and tips that may help. We all deserve to feel better.
Seventy studies and counting have concluded that loneliness actually kills people. The Brigham Young team which analyzed all of those studies concluded that people who were lonely or socially isolated had a 30% higher chance of dying than those who had regular social contact. Isn't that astounding?
Even if we don't feel at risk for death because of loneliness, it compounds other problems, like aging faster, advancing disease like cancer and Alzheimer's, and weakening our immune systems.
I know with our inability to go places and do things now so limited, I tend to feel more lonely than when I'm able to interact with the world, even if that means doing simple things I enjoy. So what can we do when we feel this way? Here are some things to keep in mind about loneliness, and what we can do when we feel it.*
THINGS TO KNOW Chronic loneliness has increased According to studies, 46% of the entire population of the United States say they regularly feel lonely. Sixty percent of 18-34 year-olds in the UK say they often feel lonely. Despite the many digital apps and platforms designed to "connect" us with others, millions of us are ever more isolated.
Loneliness is not an "introvert" thing (or any other "thing" thing) Whether we consider ourselves extremely outgoing or super introverted, loneliness doesn't discriminate. Studies have shown that being extroverted, or having strong social skills, doesn't equate to more connections with people. Same is true for social status, looks, fame, power, how much money we have, etc.
Feeling lonely is built in -- It's normal and universal Loneliness is a symptom of a lack of social connection. In caveman days, we needed to connect to others, because our lives depended on it. We could not be isolated from the tribe, lest we be eaten, get hurt, shunned from shelter or starved to death. Rejection was an acute, painful feeling because it meant we were endangering our ability to stay alive. Though those factors no longer apply, our biology is still wired the same way.
THINGS TO DO Question your thoughts + Don't hold shame Pay attention to what you tell yourself when you're feeling lonely. Do you create stories in your mind that you are intentionally being excluded by others? Or do you characterize interactions with others as mostly negative? These thoughts often push you further into isolation.
Examine what you are thinking to ensure you are accurately representing what is really going on. For example, did somebody say something that was specifically negative? Or did you assign negativity to their words? Could there be another reason for their reaction, i.e. they were running late, distracted, etc.?
And don't shame yourself for feeling lonely. Whether they talk about it or not, everyone in your life has felt the same way. Accept how you are feeling and don't judge yourself; there are things you can do to combat loneliness.
Risk putting yourself out there When you feel lonely, it's even less likely you push yourself to connect with others. To combat loneliness, you need to challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone. This is where I struggle, because I will often tell myself I'm too tired, busy, etc. to do something about feeling lonely. But that keeps me stuck.
Accept invitations to connect, even just virtually. Reach out to an acquaintance or an old friend with a simple text or call. Have a personal conversation after work with a team member you trust.
Don't push people away when they make an effort. Be open to connecting, though you feel vulnerable. Even if it doesn't go anywhere, you are building your connection muscle with practice.
Give others leeway Often when you feel lonely, you hyper focus on yourself. You think everyone is reacting to you, when sometimes it has nothing to do with you.
Give people the benefit of the doubt; don't assume they are responding to you negatively, or that you already know how they will respond.
Feelings of loneliness don't always go away on their own. If this is a recurring or persistent issue for you, take action to do something about it. This is a way to demonstrate that you value and love yourself.
Disclaimer: I am not a mental health or healthcare professional. If you are struggling with feelings of loneliness, please seek professional help immediately.
*Much of the information in this article is derived from the video "Loneliness" by Kurzgesagt - In A Nutshell, a German animation studio whose YouTube videos are designed to educate people about science, philosophy, technology, politics and more.
Loneliness - Reads Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure, and Other Everyday Hurts - Guy Winch, PhD Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection - John T. Cacioppo and William Patrick Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World - Vivek Murthy, MD (former US Surgeon General)
Loneliness - Video