With ever expanding avenues and opportunities for connection that technology provides, we may expect loneliness to be a thing of the past – but unfortunately that is far from the truth.
Loneliness can be defined as a subjective, unwelcome feeling of lack or loss of companionship. It happens when we have a mismatch between the quantity and quality of social relationships that we have, and those that we want (Perlman and Peplau, 1981).
This lack of connection and companionship varies in severity – from a feeling that comes and goes, happens primarily at certain times (like holidays), or it could be something you feel most of the time. Loneliness can be classified as emotional (when we miss a particular person and their companionship) or social (when we miss a wider group or network of friends).
Exposure and attention for the significance and severity of lack of connection has been increasing, with Britain recently appointing a ‘Minister of Loneliness’ to provide support and education on the subject.
Studies have found that as many as 1 in 4 people feel like they have no one they can talk to – with over 50% of respondents saying that they felt that no one actually knew them well, and another 40% indicating that they felt isolated from others. When reading the stats, I originally was surprised – but if I reflect honestly on my own personal life, I can identify periods where I can relate to their sentiments.
But one thing that truly shocked me, was how significant a health impact loneliness (something I assumed was much less widespread or serious) could have – being associated with similar mortality rate as those who smoked 15 or more cigarettes a day (Holt-Lunstad, 2015), and greater than the health risks of being obese.
Not once has the depth or satisfaction of my social network been inquired about by a health care professional, and yet it is directed related to increased risks of:
- Decreased life span (+26%)
- Heart Disease, Stroke, High Blood Pressure
- Cognitive decline, Clinical Dementia (+64%)
- Anxiety, Depression, Suicide
- Early onset of Disability
- Substance abuse
All this to say – loneliness is serious stuff.
We as humans are wired for connection – the occasional tinge of loneliness is a healthy biological signal to build stronger social relationships. It is our bodies way of reaching for what we need to survive – and that’s a great thing. However, when it becomes chronic it has the ability to wreak havoc.
I’m looking forward to diving deeper into how to strengthen the connections in your life, to help ward off loneliness and its many impacts, over the coming weeks with my Connection Project – but until then, remember…
You are not alone.
Has there ever been a time in your life when you felt like there was no one you could talk to or count on? How did you resolve that? What does loneliness look like to you? Does technology help you to feel more or less connected to others? Would love to hear your thoughts below!
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