Have you ever felt lonely? Nearly everyone feels lonely at some point in their life, perhaps due to a life change such as starting a new school or job, or moving to a new city. But for some people, loneliness is a way of life. For the younger generation, it may stem from a lack of connection with others. While technology may “connect” people remotely through instant messaging, video conferencing or social media, studies show that the more time people spend on technology or social media, the more lonely they feel. A study done by George Mason University in the United States found 1 in 3 youth below the age of 25 felt lonely. Another study found 40% of youth aged 16 to 24 in the UK felt lonely “often or very often.”
For older folks, they may not feel too lonely until their 70s, when the resilience to loneliness begins to decline. Loneliness peaks as people age into their 80s and 90s. “It isn’t until the losses begin to mount in much older age — the loss of health and mobility, the deaths of spouses, family and friends — that people begin to be unable to bounce back and loneliness spikes,” says Louise Hawkley, a scientist at the University of Chicago.
Regardless of how old you are, chronic loneliness can have adverse consequences for your health.
HOW LONELINESS IMPACTS YOUR HEALTH
- Loneliness often leads to sleeplessness. Researchers have found a link between sleep disruptions and loneliness. Researchers from King’s College London found a link between loneliness and poor sleep quality in a study of more than 2,000 British young adults. “Lonelier people were 24% more likely to feel tired and have difficulty concentrating during the day,” according to the study.
- Loneliness can compromise your immune system. Studies show that loneliness can weaken the immune system, increase sensitivity to physical pain and contribute to inflammation in the body.
- Feeling lonely can increase your risk for dementia. In a study of nearly 2,200 older adults, researchers found that those who reported feeling lonely (regardless of the number of friends or family surrounding them) were more likely to experience dementia than those who lived alone.
- Loneliness can increase your risk for heart disease. An analysis of 181,000 adults discovered that loneliness, social isolation or both were linked to a 29% higher risk of heart attack and a 32% greater risk of stroke.
HOW TO COMBAT LONELINESS
- Connect in real life. We can build stronger in-person connections by being present, looking people in the eye and through active listening. Remember not to be distracted by your phone or other technology!
- Do more things with people. Engaging in face-to-face social interactions can improve our mood and reduce feelings of loneliness. Activities such as sports or religious services, which involve other people, are more likely to have positive effects on our mental health.
- Shift the focus. Instead of focusing on yourself, shift your focus on what you can give and offer to others. You can offer your time by volunteering at a food bank, homeless shelter or refugee centre. You can sell things online to raise money for a good cause. You can donate old (or new) books or things to a charity. By giving to others, you take the focus off yourself and do good at the same time, helping you to feel more connected and less lonely.
- Be nice to yourself. Practising self-kindness and engaging in self-care can boost your mood and change the way you view certain situations. Try talking to yourself in a way that is supportive and caring. Take a nature walk, give yourself a manicure or try a new restaurant in town- better yet, ask someone to join you.
- Pay attention to things that matter. What experiences make you feel lonely? Which ones make you feel connected or feel like you belong? Try to identify these moments to help you reduce loneliness. Limit your engagement in activities that make you feel lonely and do more of the activities that make you feel more connected.