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Here’s Why You Don’t Have To Be Afraid Of Loneliness, According To Science

August 2, 2016

Feeling a little lonely? Don’t worry – it’s completely normal and simply part of what it means to be human. That said; there are ways to make space for these feelings of loneliness and ease the discomfort. Ms Ho Shee Wai, Director and Registered Psychologist of The Counselling Place, shows us how.

Loneliness is not something many people like to talk about. We go into extensive detail about our lives on social media, but often refrain talking about the L word.

Perhaps it’s because loneliness is perceived as weak or being lacking.

The truth is, every single of us will feel lonely at some point in our lives. Human beings are social creatures that are wired for connection. Whether you’re single or in a relationship, surrounded by friends at home or completely alone in a foreign city, loneliness will always be there. Ms Ho says, “Loneliness is defined as the discrepancy between our desired and actual social bonds. It is a state where a person feels a lack of connection with others. Therefore, whether a person is lonely is entirely subjective.”

According to Ms Ho, studies have shown that 20 percent of the general population will suffer from chronic loneliness at any given time. She says, “This is of a higher incidence rate than any other mental health conditions. For instance, the incidence rate for depression is 10 percent of the general population.”

The Impact Of Loneliness On Your Health

As far as feelings go, loneliness doesn’t feel good. It varies from mild feelings of distress (“OMG, why am I alone at home on a Saturday night?”) to crushing feelings of despair (“Nobody cares.”) In addition to the emotional pain of loneliness, chronic loneliness can have devastating effects on one’s mental and social health.

Ms Ho says, “Loneliness depresses our immune system functioning, doubles our chances of catching a cold, increases inflammatory responses that put us at greater risk for cardiovascular disease, and can literally shorten our longevity. On the mental health front, loneliness puts us at risk for depression and anxiety and causes us to distort our perceptions such that we view our lives, our relationships, and ourselves more negatively.”

Although chronic loneliness can potentially have a huge impact on your life, it doesn’t have to be debilitating. One way to nip the problem in the bud is to seek help early. By speaking to a therapist or trusted mental health professional, you’ll be able to receive the connection you need as well as gain the tools needed to align your life with values you hold dear – for example, the need for intimacy and connection.


What To Do When You’re In A Lonely Funk

lonelinessSometimes, the feelings of loneliness can feel so oppressive that paradoxically, you feel like shutting yourself away from everyone. However, it’s precisely at these moments that you should reach out for social connection.

Ms Ho suggests taking the initiative to reach out to friends and family, and create shared experiences together. She says, “If you’re lonely, chances are your partner or family members and friends are too. But they are also probably trapped in a cycle of emotional disconnection and feel helpless to break it. Try to initiate conversations that are not about transactional details. Ask for their views on topics they care about and make sure to demonstrate you’re listening. Don’t expect them to reciprocate right away, as habits take time to change, but after a few gestures of goodwill, they will likely return the favor.”

She adds, “You can also suggest certain bonding activities such as walks around the block, cooking a meal together, or working on an activity together.”

Learning To Sit With Loneliness

listening to musicAnother way to cope with chronic loneliness is to make space for these uncomfortable feelings. This can be done through the practice of mindfulness. Ms Ho says, “Mindfulness is being fully present to the moment. It is full acceptance of all thoughts, feelings, and sensations, inside and outside of ourselves.”

Very often, whenever we experience feelings of loneliness, we tend to pile on self-critical thoughts such as, “Why am I feeling like this? I’m such a loser,” or “Loneliness is weakness.”

This sort of self-judgment only compounds the original feelings of loneliness, and serves to make us feel worse about ourselves. A much kinder way of being would be to tell yourself, “Hey, it’s normal to feel this way. This too shall pass.”

Whenever you’re feeling lonely, take a few moments to be mindful about your experience and allow the feelings to come and go, without making any judgment of what should or should not be happening. Over time, you’ll see that the less you try to manipulate your inner experience, the more peaceful and content you’ll feel.