Lately there’s been increasing attention put on loneliness as not only a social issue but an experience that has a direct impact on our health and wellbeing.
What is loneliness exactly? Michelle Lim from Swinburne University describes it as “a negative feeling that arises when someone’s social needs are unmet by their current social relationships”. This means that even if we’re in the company of others we can still feel alone and lonely. It all depends on whether or not we’re getting the right kind of company and support.
The research out of Swinburne shows that the more difficult we feel relationship with others is, the harder we find physical and mental activity. This experience of living life alone, without others to share the challenges, reduces our experience of the world as a safe place. This can be very stressful.
And the effects are not only emotional and psychological – Dr Lim’s research shows that loneliness has many negative impacts including on how our brains work, our ability to handle tasks that require thinking, our ability to control inflammation in our body, regulate stress, and manage our overall mental health. It has also been found to be a risk factor for all causes of early death with feelings of loneliness having been found to increase our likelihood of earlier death by 26% (greater than the risk for obesity!).
So then, how to respond to this?
It’s often assumed that by creating opportunities for social interaction and connection the loneliness will simply go away but this often isn’t the case. “Lonely” people may not show the sorts of ‘warm’ and ‘friendly’ social cues that are expected and hence be interpreted as ‘unfriendly’ or ‘rejecting’ hence loneliness can be part of an ongoing cycle that can be difficult to break without expert support.
Studies show that the most useful support is to work with:
- the negative thinking about others;
- to build the quality of relationships & the intimacy experienced within these;
- positive emotions & positive behaviours.
Getting connected, staying connected – it’s more difficult for some but the good news is there are ways to achieve this. And the benefits are far-reaching – it could even save your life…
Until next time,