TARA WILKINSON PHOTO
All of us at some point in our lives have experienced loneliness. For some it’s temporary, perhaps triggered by particular events or transitions, while for others, it seems to be a permanent fact of life.
So is modern life making us lonely?
Loneliness does not necessarily mean the same as being alone. Loneliness is defined as being without companions or company. The sadness you feel, when your actual social involvement and relationships are not what you want them to be, such as feeling left out or alone when you’d prefer to be involved or interacting with others. Some people more broadly refer to people feeling socially isolated.
So why is loneliness a problem?
Chronic loneliness has been linked to depression, anxiety, interpersonal hostility, suicide as well as physical health. Research has linked chronic loneliness with heart disease, hypertension, stroke, lung disease and metabolic disorders. It can increase inflammation and lower your immune resistance, making you susceptible to viruses and bacteria. It can also impair your sleep and increase your risk of premature death.
So why are we seeing chronic loneliness in our modern age?
One reason is the feeling of being unconnected to a community. We have designed our cities to lack central meeting places, we prioritize the use of cars and individual housing options like condos. We have moved to sitting inside or in backyards away from our neighbours or what’s happening on our street. Relationships are changing from in person to virtual, many relationships being formed through technology and replaced by social networking like Facebook and e-dating. Removing face-to-face socializing removes the physical contact humans need.
While loneliness has negative consequences, strong social connections and supportive relationships can provide many benefits.
Here are a few steps to get started:
• personally recognize and acknowledge these painful feelings
• make small steps like smiling at a neighbour
• re-think how you want to use social media and social networks.
• start a conversation about loneliness to help decrease the stigma around it
• get involved in any community activity or program that leads to socializing in person
• volunteer… do something you really enjoy
• connect and reconnect with people during the “Let no one be Alone” week that runs every May
• advocate for city and neighbour plans that allow people to connect easier and more often
Humans are social creatures and we need “real” social connections to live healthy lives. So what are you waiting for … reach out to someone and seek a healthier tomorrow