How to Avoid Being Part of the “Loneliness Epidemic”
By Cheryl Harbour

Feel a little lonely sometimes? You're not alone.

Researches are worried about all of us. Studies have shown loneliness is now an epidemic and it's putting our health at risk. One of the leading scientists studying loneliness -- Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychology professor at Brigham Young University -- has concluded that being lonely poses a bigger health risk than being obese and is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Can you be surrounded by people and still experience the health risks of loneliness? According to new research, you certainly can. Studies have found loneliness isn't an objective evaluation of how many relationships a person may have; loneliness is based on how that person feels about the relationships they have.

So if you're picturing the "lonely person" as an elderly shut-in who doesn't have any friends and can't go anywhere, think again. Yes, those people may become socially isolated, but they're not the only ones. In fact, loneliness is increasing in all groups, even the 16-24 age group.

According to an article in Psychology Today, one of the explanations for why loneliness is such a health risk, is that the pain of feeling lonely triggers the “fight or flight” chemicals. That response served a purpose with our ancestors because it warned them to get back with the clan where they'd be safer from large hairy predators.

But these days, those fight or flight chemicals cause stress, resulting in less restful sleep, higher blood pressure and increased levels of hormones that contribute to inflammation and weakened immunity. What’s more, people who are chronically lonely start building up walls when relating to other people. They tend to get defensive, wary or even hostile in their interactions, all of which stem from a feeling of being unloved or uncared for.

Why is loneliness a growing problem for more people? Some experts point to the unraveling of modern society's fabric as well as the rise of electronic devices that take our attention away from other humans.

The article in Psychology Today identifies seven kinds of loneliness. To protect yourself from being part of this epidemic, read them and decide if any of them apply to you. Then try some steps you can take to feel more connected.

Seven Types of Loneliness:

1. New Situation

You've moved or switched jobs and you're surrounded by strangers.

2. I'm Different

The people around you seem fundamentally different from you.

3. No Sweetheart

You don't have the intimate attachment of a romantic partner.

4. No Animal

Your deep need to connect with animals is not being met.

5. People Close to You Have No Time for You

You're stuck in a friendly-but-not-real-friends mode or your real friends are in a new, busier phase of life.

6. Casual Friends

Your current relationships seem superficial.

7. No Quiet Presence

You may have an active social network but nobody with whom to spend quiet moments at home.

If you're determined not to be lonely, consider these steps:

Cultivate social contact. For example, if you usually exercise alone, join a class or a club.

Talk to the people around you instead of burying your head in your phone.

Don't depend on texts or messages to keep your relationships current. Make time to see people you like face-to-face.

Be a good neighbour. Get to know the people who live around you. Introduce yourself. Deliver a plate of cookies to new neighbours.

Don't be afraid to hold hands, hug, or pat someone on the shoulder (unless, of course, the #metoo movement has paralyzed you). Appropriate physical contact is a great stress reliever.

It's not just about contact. It's about connection. Have the courage to develop friendships that are deeper and more authentic.

As Roy Orbison sang in his 1960 hit:

Only the lonely...know the way I feel tonight.

Only the lonely...know this feeling ain't right.

Read more about loneliness in this article in Psychology Today.

And if you'd like to digress from this serious topic and reminisce with Roy Orbison singing his first hit, here's a link.



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