Have you or your loved ones ever struggled from the effects of chronic loneliness? You’re not alone – loneliness seems to be a growing epidemic in the United States right now. A survey cited by CBS News states that almost three-quarters (72 percent) of poll participants experience loneliness. Most importantly, “for many, it’s not just a once-in-a-while occurrence – one-third said they feel lonely at least once a week.”
Why is it that certain people struggle with the effects of chronic loneliness, while others do not? Contrary to what one might expect, evidence presented in a recent Psychology Today article called “Solutions for the Solitary” concluded that feelings of loneliness are not directly tied to objective measures such as a person’s number of relationships – in fact, the study reported that 60 percent of the people who reported feeling lonely were married. Meanwhile, although these married people can report debilitating feelings of chronic loneliness, others can feel perfectly content despite having much fewer strong relationships and friendships.
This is because the root cause of this sense of loneliness is not objective isolation, but the subjective experience of the person struggling with it.
Lonely people regularly numb their perception of gestures that confirm their bonds with others. Simultaneously, they place stronger emphasis on the significance of events that disconfirm these bonds. A lonely person is inclined to overlook the caring gestures of a friend, but much more likely to dwell on a snide remark or minor personal slight.
The overall effect of these tendencies leads the chronically lonely to undervalue their friendships and to perceive themselves as insignificant in the eyes of their peers, as well as socially isolated.
This, in turn, can lead to a whole host of negative consequences, including a depressed immune system, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and clinical depression. Research presented in the same article even shows that chronic loneliness can increase the chances of an early death by up to 14 percent.
In an interview with CBS, Dr. Jennifer Caudle – an assistant professor of family medicine at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine – added some more insight on how to counteract loneliness. First, she says, ditch the screens once in a while.
“Being connected electronically isn’t the same as in person. There’s something about a person-to-person interaction that’s generally better for our well-being.” She recommends the occasional “digital cleanse” to strengthen real-life relationships in addition to digital ones.
Caudle also says to “step out of your comfort zone” by seeking solace in a community of like-minded people, whether that be a religious center, a new club, a sports team, or anything else that appeals to you more.
Exercise and time in nature have also been shown to reduce feelings of loneliness. However, if you’re feeling them regularly, talk to your doctor. No one has to go through it alone.
There are ways to combat feelings of isolation and insignificance before they have the chance to ruin your life. If you or someone you know struggles with chronic loneliness, consider seeking treatment, or at the very least, attempt to use some of the strategies that can help mitigate it.
It’s hard to take on the world as an empowered woman when you’re not taking care of yourself first.
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