Are You Lonesome Tonight? ~ Amy Goldberg

Did you know that loneliness is becoming a public health issue? Actually, being more connected has brought us further away from one another.

We’re feeling disconnected, and less motivated to build meaningful relationships as we start to isolate ourselves more from the outside world. That’s a problem.

Social isolation is a growing health concern both physically and emotionally. It can cause stress, increased blood pressure, diabetes, depression and speed up cognitive decline due to a lack of intellectual stimulation.

In May 2018, a survey conducted by Cigna, a large health insurance company asked over 20,000 American adults if they agreed with statements like; “People are around me but not with me,” and “No one really knows me well.” The survey in particular found that youth were lonelier than older adults. The study revealed that Gen Z (ages 18-22) and Millennials (ages 23-37) were lonelier and claimed to be in worse health than older generations.

The study went on to say that social media use alone was not a predictor of loneliness. In fact, ironically, many turned to social media as a way of treating their feelings of loneliness.

The survey went on to note that other lifestyle factors were at play, including disruptive sleep patterns, how much one worked, and how much time one spent with family were also tied to loneliness.

Another lifestyle factor that impacted loneliness was physical activity. Those that got the right amount of exercise were considerably less likely to be lonely. And yet, research showed that too much exercise could cause an increase in loneliness. It really comes down to a lack of balance. You know, too much of a good thing and all of that.

Not surprisingly, those who engaged in frequent meaningful in-person interactions had much lower loneliness scores than those who rarely interacted with others face-to-face.

So, what’s really going on?

Researchers have defined loneliness as “perceived social isolation,” with the key being perceived. Loneliness is subjective. It’s the gap between the relationships that we have, and the relationships that we want.

Additionally, according to one theory, it all depends on what we believe to be “normal.” If our social life looks like what we’d expect for someone of our age, then we’re less likely to feel lonely. For example; “A teenage girl may feel lonely if she only has two good friends, whereas an 80-year-old woman may feel very connected because she still has two good friends,” says researchers Maike Luhmann and Louise C. Hawkley.

If loneliness is more about our state of mind, than we need to create more internally focused strategies. This, by the way, is where mindfulness and meditation can play a significant role in helping to quiet (so to speak) our feelings of loneliness.

One thing is for sure, more research is needed to better understand both loneliness and isolation. And yet, both are equally bad for our health.

What can you glean from this?

It’s important to nurture our connections with others.