Human beings are naturally social creatures, and healthy social relationships boost our wellbeing and bring out positive aspects of those around us. This is why it can be really discouraging to feel lonely. We often see people on social media hanging out together, going out together, and having adventures together. When we view others having fun and seemingly enjoying life, it’s very common to feel lonely, or feel afraid that you might be missing out on something. Loneliness is defined as an absence of intimate attachment, with the individual also experiencing feelings of emptiness or abandonment. Statistics have shown that loneliness is a surprisingly common experience; 80% of those under 18 years of age and 40% of adults over 65 years of age have reported feelings of loneliness. Millennials are also found to be a lonely generation, with 30% of millennials saying that they often feel lonely and up to 22% of them feeling they have no friends at all. Loneliness isn’t something that appears out of the blue; many different factors contribute to feelings of loneliness. Let’s have a look at a few of them.
What Can Cause Loneliness?
Loneliness most often means a general lack of social communication. Several factors can play into this: living alone, being unmarried or not in a relationship, not having friends to turn to in a time of need, and not participating in social groups.
Another common factor is feeling unsupported by or disconnected from friends and family. Supporting each other through good times and bad is crucial to our social health. The lack of proper support can see people struggle with their mental and physical health due to an increasingly low sense of belonging.
In general, feeling lonely can signal:
- A lack of intimacy
- Feeling lonely in a relationship
- A lack of companionship
- Feeling left out or isolated
It should be noted that loneliness does not mean objective social isolation; instead, loneliness is how we perceive our social isolation. There are people who can live solitary lives and not feel lonely at all, whereas others might have objectively rich social lives yet still feel lonely. Therefore, loneliness is measured by the way in which a person’s social needs are met as well as the quality of a person’s social relationships. That being said, there are a multitude of reasons why people can feel lonely, and these can vary from person-to-person.
- Since the 2000s, there has been a heavily increased use and dependence on social media and similar technologies. This has resulted in an increased amount of time spent online, as opposed to the previous generation who were mainly dependent on social communication in real time. Since then, everything has changed. Even dating has changed, shifting from meeting people sporadically in real life to playing a game of swiping left and right on various dating apps.
- A culture of individualism has emerged among societies worldwide. Individualism culture is the phenomenon of people focusing on themselves and their own achievements rather than focusing on being together as a community and achieving goals as a group.
The Effects of Loneliness and the Benefits of a Plentiful Social Life
Here’s the thing about loneliness: Despite the fact that it is not a physical state of being but rather a subjective emotion, prolonged isolation and loneliness can lead to problems such as sleep issues, cognitive decline, heart disease, obesity, anxiousness, and depression. However, society has grown to become more understanding and empathetic, and searching for external help can provide numerous benefits for our overall health.
By addressing feelings of loneliness, you can improve your overall quality of life. Fending off feelings of loneliness and nurturing a plentiful social life has various benefits for you, such as:
- increasing your sense of purpose and belonging.
- boosting your overall happiness and reducing your stress.
- improving your confidence.
- helping you cope in times of need, for example dealing with trauma, the loss of a loved one, or a serious illness.
- encouraging and helping you to adopt healthier habits.
How to Address Feelings of Loneliness
Feeling lonely does not have to be a permanent state of mind for anyone. Research has shown that loneliness can be combated with effective coping strategies. Accepting and reflecting on your own wants and needs, for example, can help address your feelings and allow you to recognize where you want to improve and why. It’s the first step to improving feelings of loneliness.
This type of understanding can also be obtained by joining groups of like-minded people that encourage growth and improvement. Research has also shown that social support is crucial to our health as it helps give us a sense of purpose and self worth.
In fact, there are some practical steps you can take to combat feelings of loneliness. For example, by increasing your own personal wellbeing, you can increase your ability to connect with others. This means developing more meaningful relationships and preventing feelings of loneliness.
Nurture Your Overall Mental Health
Adopting certain practices in your life, such as meditation, yoga, and even tai chi, can help increase your personal wellbeing. Oftentimes, you can even do these sessions in groups – taking yoga classes, for example. These settings improve both social and personal wellbeing.
Tend to Your Existing Social Network
In today’s world, it’s easy to get caught up in our personal lives. As we tunnel through our daily routine, it can become easy to overlook the other people in our lives. If you’re struggling with feelings of loneliness, take a moment to reflect on the current people in your life. Is there anyone who you haven’t reached out to in a while? Take the first steps towards reinitiating the conversation; send a message, invite them for coffee, or watch a movie together. Whatever it is, reaching out can be a great way to keep social relationships alive while reminding yourself that you’re not as lonely as you may have initially felt.
Join a Group of Like-Minded People
Another option is increasing your opportunities for social interaction. Classes like fitness, art, or dance can expand your circle. Volunteering, either in person or virtually, can also help you step out of your comfort zone and get to know new people. All of these ideas allow you to get out of your own shell and interact with other people while doing something that you enjoy!