Loneliness Ain’t No Joke
The Christmas decorations have been taken down, New Year’s resolutions have been made, and now it is eerily silent. No parties with lots of food and drink, no dressing up in sequins and tooting our horns, now is the time for quiet and rest. But for many of us this quiet can also be uncomfortable as it may force us to reflect on our personal happiness, with many people finding that they are not nearly as happy as they’d like to be.
So, why are so many people unhappy? Well, there are of course a variety of reasons, the most common of which are uncertainty about the future, politics, and yes, loneliness. I am not a psychic, so I can’t predict the future, nor am I a politician, so I cannot solve our political woes, but I am a therapist, so what I will focus on is the last reason, loneliness.
Loneliness is a social/communication disease, a large factor in adult unhappiness, and a major obstacle for many. According to the University of Chicago Medicine’s website, one in three adults over 45 in America suffer from loneliness. Using the same website definition for loneliness, “Loneliness is a state of mind characterized by a dissociation between what an individual wants or expects from a relationship and what that individual experiences in that relationship.” In other words, our need for satisfying connections with others, professionally, in friendships, and/or romantic relationships are not being met, and for some this has been going on for a long time, leading to chronic loneliness.
Loneliness is no joke and has very real mental and physical health consequences. The Center of Disease Control reports,
Poor social relationships (characterized by social isolation or loneliness) was associated with a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke.
Loneliness was associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide.
Loneliness among heart failure patients was associated with a nearly 4 times increased risk of death, 68% increased risk of hospitalization, and 57% increased risk of emergency department visits.
Yes, the holidays are over and it is quiet, but this is the perfect time to determine if loneliness is one reason (or the reason) for your unhappiness and plan to change that. No, there is no magic pill to resolve feeling lonely, but there are many actions you can take to reduce your feelings of loneliness and increase your levels of happiness. A few of these include taking up a new hobby, volunteering somewhere important to you, becoming a mentor or big brother/big sister, increasing your spiritual fellowship and reaching out to others with similar interests to you through websites like Meetup.
If you or someone you love are suffering from loneliness, don’t ignore it, the consequences are too real. A therapist or life coach can help you gain the skills to make those meaningful social relationships that are so important, and, of course, contact your general physician.