As we age, quite often our social circles change. Major life transitions play a role in our relationships – we move cities and find new friend groups. We break off a marriage and lose the relationships that came with it. We retire and spend less time with our former colleagues. We become empty nesters and spend more time traveling than conversing with other parents. Needless to say, life happens.
But as all of these life transitions occur, sometimes it can be difficult to fill the relationship voids. Especially in retirement or after the break of a marriage, we struggle to find ways to enter a new social circle. And before you know it, loneliness sets in and you long for that social engagement and support you once had. Some find comfort in being alone and independent, but unfortunately, we are not all aware of the health consequences that come with feeling lonely.
Loneliness, A Deadly Feeling
A recent study at the University of Chicago found that loneliness is actually a greater health risk than obesity. In fact, it has twice the effect on early death as does obesity. The study found that loneliness increases your chances of premature death by 14% and even increases your risk of cognitive decline. Furthermore, it elevates blood pressure, disrupts your sleep pattern, increases stress hormone levels, alters immunity cells, and puts you at greater risk for cardiovascular disease. In regards to mental health, loneliness can lower your overall wellbeing, leading to depression and anxiety.
According to a study conducted by AARP in 2010, over 1/3 of adults over 45 reported feeling lonely. However, most adults don’t even recognize that they are feeling lonely, and if they do, they don’t realize just how much it is altering their physical health. John Cacioppo, the leading professor in the study at the University of Chicago, discovered that the true health consequences don’t necessarily come from the physical isolation itself, but rather “the subjective sense of isolation,” so sometimes it is not so obvious when an individual is experiencing feelings of loneliness.
Cacioppo notes that adults living at home alone do not necessarily feel lonely if they are socially engaged in their community and “enjoy the company of those around them.” On the other hand, even when an adult is living with a spouse or is surrounded by friends, he or she can still experience loneliness and the physical consequences that come with it. In fact, a recent study found that 62.5% of people who reported feeling lonely were married and living with their partner. Loneliness can come in all variations, and often the true battle is simply recognizing it.
How To Conquer Feeling Lonely
Regardless of when or to what extent we feel lonely, it is important that we take action to avoid these sentiments for the sake of our physical and mental health. Cacioppo has identified three types of relationships that are important for us to feel as human beings: intimate connectedness, relational connectedness, and collective connectedness.
Intimate connectedness is what we feel when we have a relationship that affirms who we are, relational connectedness comes from mutually-rewarding relationships that are face-to-face contacts, and collective connectedness comes from those relationships that allow us to feel a part of a larger group beyond our individual existence. As human beings, we crave these three types of relationships, and it is important that we seek them out, especially when we find our social circles shrinking.
According to Cacioppo, we can avoid loneliness by staying in touch with previous co-workers, sharing experiences with friends, and taking part in family traditions. These all allow us to feel connected with those we care about most.
At Stitch, we are committed to helping others combat loneliness. That’s why we offer ways to connect one-on-one with those in your area for intimate and relational connectedness. We also offer group discussions, events, and travel opportunities to give everyone the chance to feel collective connectedness as well.
If you find yourself feeling lonely or are interested in the topic of loneliness, please consider the resources below:
– All the Lonely People, A blog about loneliness by Jennifer Page, author of “Freedom from Loneliness”
– ALonelyWorld.com, A destination for healing, sharing and caring about loneliness
– How To Deal With Loneliness, An article about how to deal with loneliness including tips for becoming socially connected
– Let’s Talk About Loneliness, A video interviewing people about their thoughts regarding loneliness and what can be done to help
– Lonely People Champion, A website all about loneliness including tools for overcoming the feeling
– Together But Still Lonely, An article including tips on fighting loneliness during marriage
– Why Loneliness May Be the Next Big Public-Health Issue, An article in Time Magazine about the risks of loneliness