What Do I Do When My Loneliness is Killing Me?
By: Stephanie Kirby
Updated May 11, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Laura Angers
There are so many songs out there about loneliness, from "Killing Loneliness" by HIM to "Hit Me Baby One More Time" by Britney Spears which, at first, doesn't sound like it's about loneliness until you get to the chorus, "My loneliness is killing me…". But you may wonder, was Britney on to something? Can you experience such debilitating effects from loneliness? The short answer is yes, you can. Loneliness can be as dangerous for your health as smoking.
Loneliness is a growing epidemic in the world, even with our population on the rise. In this article, we'll discuss this in more detail, including:
- The cons of social media
- How loneliness impacts your physical health
- How you can be lonely when surrounded by others
- The impact loneliness has on the elderly
- Tips on making friends
How can loneliness be dangerous? As it turns out, as much as we may relish alone time, social isolation is as detrimental to our health as is smoking, being overweight, and being an alcoholic. According to the Cigna U.S. Loneliness Index, around 61% (or three out of every five) adults in the United States report feeling lonely sometimes or always. For young adults in the Gen Z generation, aged 18 to 22, the number is higher, almost 73%. Loneliness is impacting people all over the United States, and even around the world.
One of the major problems with loneliness is how we react to depression. We may think we're more comfortable skipping a social outing, but what do we do instead? Binge shows on Netflix while stuffing our mouths with fatty foods and sugary beverages? It would be much healthier to meet up with our friends for a game of pool.
If you're struggling with loneliness, you're not alone. But there is much you can to change your situation.
The Physical Effects of Loneliness
Studies have shown that people who are chronically lonely have weaker immune systems and a decreased quality of sleep. Those who spend the majority of their time alone are not exposed to the germs and bacteria needed to build up biological defenses, which are strengthened by exposing the immune system to these pathogens so they can build up antibodies and tolerance. Their immune systems resemble those of young children.
Those who live alone are solely responsible for their safety, so every little noise wakes them up, affecting their quality of sleep. Over time, a decreased quality of sleep can lead to a host of health problems, including conditions leading to heart attacks and strokes. Loneliness can also lead to an increase in anxiety which harms sleep quality as well.
Some studies have shown that chronic loneliness can also cause us to be more vulnerable to conditions like dementia, depression, and schizophrenia.
Being Lonely When Surrounded By People
Simply being around others is not always the answer to loneliness. People can feel lonely, perhaps even lonelier, when in a large crowd, or when they live in a house with several family members. The key to staving off loneliness is to spend time with people with whom you form a connection or bond-those people who share your interests.
If you're passionate about art or music, but everyone around you only likes sports, this can lead to loneliness because you may feel you have no one to talk to. If you want to discuss world news or social matters, but everyone around you avoids similar topics, you may feel like an outcast. You can choose to discuss your interests with those around you anyway, but it is often that no connections will be made because they simply aren't as interested.
The Downside of Social Media
Because in the information age we can connect to anyone anywhere and at any time, we are continuously lulled into a false sense of companionship. We're lonelier than we've ever been, and social media is not the root cause, but a significant contributor to that.
You can spend hours chatting with someone over Messenger, but what happens when you need a warm hug or a hand to hold? The endorphins you experience from such contact are non-existent over the cold, unfeeling touch of a keyboard.
As comforting as it can be to back out of a social commitment, people do need other people to survive. And while we may all feel a sense of loneliness from time to time, it is the chronic, prolonged loneliness that truly does us in. Being lonely can lead to anxiety and depression, and all of those unsavory side effects and manifestations that go along with those conditions.
Loneliness, the Elderly, and the Marginalized
Loneliness is especially dangerous for the elderly, and it is also common for this age group. A news report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine showed that one-third of adults aged 45 and older feel lonely, while one-fourth of adults aged 65 and older report feeling socially isolated. Social isolation is a lack of meaningful social connections and is associated with a 50% increased risk of dementia in vulnerable elderly individuals.
It's no secret that it's harder to get around the older you get. When it becomes more difficult or practically impossible to go on long road trips or take a lengthy plane flight, seniors tend to stay put, which leads to their reduction in spending time with those they care about. Not being able to visit their children or grandchildren can undoubtedly lead to an increase in loneliness.
In addition to the elderly, those who are otherwise "different" tend to be the loneliest: those who are regularly bullied, or those who suffer from poverty. Women also tend to be lonelier than men, and blacks tend to be lonelier than whites. Those who received a better education tend to be less lonely than those who did not, and those who have jobs tend to be less lonely than those who are unemployed or retired. Additionally, rates of loneliness are significantly higher among members of the immigrant and LGBT+ communities. The contributing factors are wide and varied, including but not limited to language constraints, educational differences, cultural differences, external stressors such as governmental pressures, and family dynamics.
What You Can Do about Your Loneliness
If you're unsure how to go about forming new connections with people who share your interests, there are some things to try.
A great way of connecting with others is via the Meetup app or website. On Meetup, you can search for your particular interests and then try to find others who share those interests in your local area.
If you can't find a meetup for your particular interest, you can create your group. Simply pick a public meeting place, and then organize the weekly or monthly meetings as you see fit. There's a nominal monthly fee to keep your Meetup going, but when you compare it to the alternative, the fee is insignificant.
You can also use your own social media preferences to seek out local meetup groups. But make sure these groups meet in person, or you're simply going back to the cold emptiness of a computer screen.
Reach Out to Those You Know
Sometimes we're lonely even though we have a great support system. Take the time to reach out to your family and friends you haven't talked to in a while. Schedule a time to get coffee or have dinner together. Strike up those old friendships again.
Sometimes loneliness is due to larger struggles, such as social anxiety or depression. If you're struggling and aren't able to take the necessary steps to correct the issues on your own, you may look into talking to a therapist. If you’re not sure if traditional therapy is right for you or if you’re not ready for in-person therapy, consider taking a few sessions of online counseling. Online therapy has been shown to help bridge gaps between mental health needs and mental health resources. One study published by Harvard University addressed the use of online therapeutic tools to help the elderly manage loneliness during the COVID-19 pandemic. The study showed that the elderly and their caregivers benefited from having convenient and cost-effective ways to talk to licensed therapists. These benefits can extend to people of all ages and backgrounds.
Online therapy can be a suitable alternative to traditional therapy. With online counseling, you can attend sessions without leaving your home. Instead of trying to find a place on your busy schedule, you can attend convenient sessions via video conference, phone call, or live messaging. Additionally, many licensed and qualified online therapists are experienced in different therapeutic strategies. If you do a little research, you may find someone who is ready and trained to help you manage your situation.
"Jeni is one of a kind. She is caring, compassionate, professional, respectful, easy to talk to and she makes you feel like you are not alone. When we are communicating whether it be via email or video sessions, she always makes herself seem relate-able. I really enjoy working with her and think she is great at her profession!"
"I would recommend Ashley to everyone seeking help. She asks the right questions and lets you know you are not alone and she validates your feelings. I felt like I was hanging on by my fingernails and in a few weeks I have calmed and been able to step back and look at my situation."
Do you find yourself struggling to get out and spend time with people, despite knowing it's best for you? As difficult as it might seem right now, living a healthier, more positive, and less lonely life is possible-all you need are the right tools. Take the first step.
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