Do you know someone who struggles with loneliness? Are they married or surrounded by family, yet still feel lonely? Most people don't realize the physical and emotional consequence of loneliness. A recent study presented at EuroHeartCare 2018 found that loneliness can lead to heart disease and stroke along with being a strong predictor of premature death. In addition, loneliness worsens mental health issues and leads to a lower quality of life. Interestingly, loneliness was a much stronger predictor of the above issues than living alone and this result held true for both men and women. Loneliness is more common today than ever before and health providers should consider this when assessing risk factors.
Loneliness can affect anyone regardless of marital status, gender, age or socioeconomic position. Sometimes people in committed relationships still feel isolated and disconnected. Their partner may be emotionally or physically unavailable. They may live with an individual who values work over relationships. Or the relationship has perpetual conflict and turmoil which keeps them detached and disengaged. Some people have difficulties creating social connections, networks, and support due to anxiety. Depression or internal conflicts may play a role, but often it relates to not feeling included or accepted by others. Sometimes it is easier to reject others first in anticipation of being rejected by others. The isolation can be self-inflicted which may be a way to have greater control over the situation. Unfortunately, technology (like Facebook) can make it easier to stay connected on a superficial level without the risk and rewards of deeper connections which can ironically increase loneliness. So how can you feel less lonely?
For starters, figure out why you feel this way. Are you lonely because of relationship issues or your limited social connections? Are you grieving a lost relationship due to death or divorce? Find activities that include socialization to encourage your connection to others. Sometimes we have to take risks, step out of our comfort zone, and sign up for an experience that will create opportunity for friendships. Maybe we join a club, become connected with a church, find a fitness class, and/or volunteer in the community. When we decide to serve others less fortunate we learn to appreciate the connections we have through family and friends. Or maybe we work on mending fences in our own backyard with our spouse, children, and extended family. We may need to apologize, forgive, and let go of unresolved conflict in order to gain back the connection. Given the busyness of our lives, we may need to schedule time with people and be intentional about our connections. Challenge yourself to make the effort to reduce your loneliness and recognize the physical and psychological benefits of cultivating deep connections with others.