A recent report by Cigna found that nearly half of Americans feel lonely on a regular basis. For those over the age of 45, the majority of lonely individuals report feeling that way for 6 or more years. Studies have found that loneliness is associated with a reduced lifespan similar to smoking 15 cigarettes per day, and the absence of or poor social relationships increases your risk of heart disease and stroke by as much as 30%.
Humans are social creatures. We were built to be in relationships. When we are alone, we subconsciously become more aware of threats in our environment as a means of self-preservation. This vigilance triggers the stress response and results in increased cortisol levels that then negatively impact physical and psychological health.
When I speak with clients about loneliness, most are geographically far or estranged from family, and they have a difficult time making friends. In our culture of social media and online gaming, many have numerous cyber friends, but those connections lack the intimacy that in-person relationships offer.
Also, it is important to understand that loneliness is part of the human condition. The more that you grow comfortable with yourself and ease into the idea of solitude, the less being alone will hurt. Developing a meditation practice and creating meaningful rituals can be helpful in deepening your relationship with yourself.
Here are some helpful ideas to reduce your loneliness and connect to others:
Volunteer for a local organization
Join a book, movie, or walking club
Adopt a pet
Go out for dinner or coffee
Attend a yoga or art class
Plan a trip to see family or friends
Invite a neighbor for lunch
For the long-term, focus on developing at least one close friendship. It’s not the quantity of friendships, but the quality that make a significant difference in reducing loneliness.
If you find none of these solutions to be helpful, or you feel that you are blocking possible connections in your life, then consider scheduling an appointment with a therapist to address any underlying concerns that might be keeping you lonely.
If you have any questions, or would like to schedule an appointment, please contact Dr. Steph.