Each of us has experienced the feeling of being alone at some time or another. However, loneliness is the prolonged state of feeling all the negative sensations that go along with the feeling of being persistently alone.
Ironically, many people who feel loneliness aren’t actually alone. Instead even though they may be in a crowd, they have allowed themselves to develop the belief that they are social outcasts or losers and that’s why they feel alone.
A recent six-year study of more than 2,000 people age 50+ looked into the subject of loneliness and in its report published in the Guardian [i] in February, www.theguardian.com scientists came up with two devastating findings. First, they found that self-reported loneliness was twice as unhealthy as obesity. Perhaps more profound, they also found that the individuals who reported that they were the loneliest were nearly twice as likely to die during the six-year study as those who reported feeling the least lonely.
That should tell readers that thinking you are lonely on an ongoing basis actually has a huge negative impact upon your health. Scientists from that study estimated that those who reported being lonely had as much as a 14% risk of dying. [ii]
There are many reasons why people may feel lonely. According to the study, the world is experiencing a “silver tsunami” [iii] as people are living longer, and unfortunately far too many have a distorted mental image of retirement. According to the article’s writer, most people heading into retirement believe that once they retire, they will move to some place where the weather is great all the time and they will live happily ever after. As part of this belief, they feel they are destined to leave their lifelong co-workers, friends and family members. These two beliefs are probably where loneliness begins!
Brock Hansen, in his article on www.PsycheCentral.com [iv] says that one of the keys to not becoming lonely is to stay connected with others and to remember that loneliness is a feeling, not a fact. Many people, according to Hansen, can be lonely in a crowd. You might wonder how that is possible. Well, the answer is simple. Loneliness is based on an emotion and not an actual lack of proximity to other people.
Armed with this knowledge, there is plenty that anyone who might be experiencing loneliness can do to change that perception. How you think about yourself is perhaps where “loneliness prevention” can begin. Some of the recommendations from Hansen’s article include:
- Make a plan to fight the mental and emotional habits of loneliness.[v] Reach out to others, initiate conversations.
- Focus on the needs and feelings of others and less on your own feelings of loneliness.[vi] This is perhaps why people like to volunteer for various projects and charities. When they volunteer, their time is focused on the needs of others and they are able to give of their own time, talent and skills.
- Find others like you who share your common interests. Focus on what you like to do whether it is gardening, music or church work and more than likely, there are groups of people near you who also enjoy those same activities.
- When you make an appointment to share time with others, always show up. You never know if others may feel the way you do about loneliness. If you don’t show up when you say you will, your absence may trigger their emotional message that they are not liked or unworthy of friendship. Remember your new friends may be equally vulnerable where loneliness is concerned.
- Remember nobody is perfect, so don’t expect immediate success or perfection. Social bonding is a give and get situation. Be understanding and kind and those sentiments will be returned to you.
- Learn to be flexible. Try several different groups. If one isn’t your cup of tea, don’t give up. Try another group.
- And perhaps, one of the most important tips you can get about making sure you don’t get lonely, is that once you develop friendships you need to make sure you nourish those new relationships. Give these friends your time, attention and support and you will find the experience to be richly rewarding.
For more information about combatting loneliness, check out AARP’s library of information and tips at www.aarp.org or visit us on line
[i] www.TheGuardian.com Sunday February 16, 2014, Loneliness twice as unhealthy as obesity for older people, study finds. Sample, Ian.
[iv] www.psychecentral.com All by Yourself? 10 ways to Overcome Loneliness, Hansen, Brock, 07/16/2012.