It’s time to take a deeper look at what it means to feel lonely in the midst of the most isolating global pandemic in a century. It’s an age-old issue that has risen in our consciousness in the last two years: how do we feel fulfilled and connected in our relationships? According to a study, men who live alone have a higher risk of inflammation.
Humans thrive in groups, according to Louise Hawkley, a lead research scientist at the University of Chicago’s Academic Research Centers, NORC. However, she continued, how much and what kind of contact each person requires to feel a member of a community differs among individuals as well as by stage of life.
According to Dr. Carla Perissinotto, professor of medicine and associate chief for Geriatrics Clinical Programs at the University of California, San Francisco, “a prevalent misconception is that the loneliest persons are those who are alone.”
Children can be lonely because they don’t see their friends at school; marginalized individuals can be lonely because the community doesn’t accept them; and older persons can be lonely due to retirement or the death of a loved one, according to Perissinotto.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with the pandemic worsening loneliness difficulties, many health professionals are concerned about the mental and physical health hazards linked with the emotion, such as depression, cardiovascular issues, and early death. That’s why, according to experts, it’s past time to examine what it means to be lonely and what we can do about it.
Is it true that being alone means being lonely?
When it comes to overcoming loneliness through social interaction, quality trumps quantity. Your tweens and teens are lonely, and they need your aid, according to an expert. “One of the key differences between loneliness and isolation is that loneliness has very little to do with quantity, with how many people you engage with or how many groups you belong to,” Hawkley explained.
“Although they have a relationship, it is not particularly strong.” The trick is to ask yourself if you are lonely, rather than looking at circumstances and assuming what sentiments should be linked with them, according to Perissinotto. If you choose solitude and have friends who can aid you if you need it, there’s no reason why you can’t live a happy life with little loneliness.
And, just as solitude does not always imply loneliness, connection does not always imply fulfilment, according to Hawkley. “People might be around others and still feel lonely, or they can be solitary souls and feel lonely.” According to Hawkley, there are three types of connections, and loneliness might result from a lack of any of them.
The first is known as intimate connection, which occurs when someone, such as a romantic partner, is so close to you that a part of your identity becomes entwined with theirs, according to her. Then there’s relational connection, which you form with intimate friends and confidants, and collective connection, which Hawkley defines as “interactions that make you feel like you’re part of a community.”
It’s crucial to figure out what kind of loss of connection is causing the feeling, she says. Then you have to assess the quality of those ties, according to Perissinotto. “I believe there are some really concrete questions to ask yourself: is it valuable to me? Do I have a sense of worth? Is it able to make me feel as if I have a feeling of purpose and that it makes me feel good?” Perissinotto expressed his thoughts.
I’m not sure what I can do about it?
Identifying the type of connection you want and the quality of the relationships you already have are crucial initial steps, but what happens next is entirely dependent on your unique circumstances. “There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution,” Perissinotto added.
“Having a really deep, meaningful relationship with one person is really important for some people’s emotions of connection, but for others, it may be interaction with a stranger.” A long chat with a stranger at an airport bar, a smile of recognition when you order your usual from your favourite coffee shop, a phone call with an old friend, or creating more trust and transparency with your partner are all methods to reduce loneliness, she noted.
Perissinotto stated that one method to combat loneliness is to talk about it publicly or privately. It might be time to seek the support of a mental health professional if you’re having trouble putting yourself out there to establish the connections you need or if you’re stuck in habits of thinking you won’t be properly welcomed, Hawkley said.
Other tools are also available to help bridge the gap, according to Dr. Matt Pantell, assistant professor of paediatrics and core faculty member of the University of California, San Francisco’s Center for Health and Community.
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“Many organisations assist people who are lonely because they do not have friends or family and wish to meet new people to connect with, either directly through social connection groups or indirectly through shared activities. Many of these institutions are pandemic-ready or have made adjustments to become more so “Pantell remarked.