Have you ever found yourself alone and wishing that you had someone to share your time with? Or maybe you’ve even felt alone in a room full of people? Well, if so, you are not alone in feeling alone. Loneliness is a universal emotion and internal state. It may be described as “the painful emotional state that occurs when there is a discrepancy between the desired and achieved patterns of social interaction” (Goosby, Bellatorre, Walsemann, & Cheadle, 2013). From this definition, it is important to note that loneliness may not just occur due to a lack of social connections but also a lack of what one perceives to be enriching social connections (Gooseby, Bellatore, Walsemann & Cheadle, 2013). It is also important to note that loneliness differs from solitude, in which a person may enjoy being alone. In this respect, loneliness may be more of an issue of quality over quantity of social interaction.
Different Types or Causes of Loneliness
We may all feel lonely at different times in our lives for different reasons, whether it be from moving to a new place and struggling to make friends or as a result of grieving the loss of loved ones. See the below list for different types of loneliness, as identified by Rubin (2017):
Quiet-presence loneliness (when you desire to share quiet presence with another person)
The above list is by no means intended to be all-inclusive, but attempts to address that loneliness may spur from a variety of different situations and causes. As such, if you are experiencing loneliness, it can be helpful to reflect on why and if there is a particular area of your life that may need to be addressed.
The Need for Social Connection
As mentioned in my previous blog post about attachment, humans are social creatures. We thrive off of having positive social ties and connection. This is evidenced by the impact of social connection on both our mental and physical health. For example, positive social connection can increase our physical health by boosting immune system functioning (Santrock, 2019). Likewise, lack of social ties, especially in the case of prolonged loneliness, has the inverse function--it may lower immune system functioning and increase stress and depression. (Santrock, 2019).
How Can We Improve Social Connection and Decrease Loneliness?
At this point you might be thinking, “Okay, so we all feel lonely sometimes and it is clearly painful and can be bad for our health if it is prolonged, but what do we do about this?!” Well keep reading for some ideas on how to improve your own social connections and decrease loneliness!
Reach out to friends and family and work on deepening your current social connections
As mentioned above, one may be feeling lonely not just due to a lack of social connections, but a lack of connections that are fulfilling. If this is the case in your own life, find a way to dig deeper into your current relationships and spend more quality time with your family and friends.
Consider “pruning” unhealthy relationships
Again, if your current relationships are proving unfulfilling, it may be time to reflect on if there are any unhealthy relationships in your life that need to be addressed and possibly pruned to make time for more healthy relationships.
Interestingly, researchers have found that older adults tend to report being less lonely than younger adults, even when one considers life circumstances such as decreased overall social activities (Santrock, 2019). Researchers have interpreted these findings to be a reflection of how older adults are more selective of their relationships and are more likely to spend time with a smaller established group of family and friends where they are “less likely to have negative emotional experiences” (Santrock, 2019, p. 586).
Meet new people
If your loneliness is a result of lack of social connections, get out there and meet new people! Volunteer work, local meet ups for hobbies, and classes are all great ways to meet like-minded individuals and spark new connections.
If you aren’t able to get out and meet new people, you can also get online and meet new people. Increased internet use among older is associated with ease of meeting new people, feeling less isolated, and being more connected with friends and family (Santrock, 2019)
Get your hearing checked
Do you have difficulty hearing your friends and family when you are together? According to Santrock (2019), recent research has found that older adults’ hearing problems are linked to a variety of impaired activities of daily living, including loneliness! If you find yourself constantly asking people to repeat themselves and your friends and family are frustrated by your inability to hear them, consider getting your hearing checked. The use of hearing aids is associated with less loneliness (Santrock, 2019).
Consider getting a pet
Many people feel a strong connection to animals and pets can be great companions. If you have the resources and are able to care for a pet, a new furry friend can be just as enriching for your social life as human friends!
Goosby, B.J., Bellatorre, A., Walsemann, K.M., & Cheadle, J.E. (2013). Adolescent loneliness and health in early adulthood. Sociological Inquiry, 83(4), 505-536. https://doi-org.proxy.consortiumlibrary.org/10.1111/soin.12018
Rubin, G (2017). 7 types of loneliness and why it matters. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-happiness-project/201702/7-types-loneliness-and-why-it-matters
Santrock, J. W. (2019). Lifespan development (17th ed.). New York, New York: McGraw Hill Education.