10 Surprising Facts About Loneliness
12 Fascinating Facts About Loneliness
Yes, it's possible to feel alone in a group, and if you do, odds are that the feeling can spread among those close to you, says Susan Newman, PhD, social psychologist and author ofLittle Things Long Remembered. In fact, research shows that when a person reports feeling lonely, her close family and friends are 52 percent more likely to say they're lonely too, and others can "catch" loneliness up to three degrees of separation (i.e. your friend's friend's friend), according to a study in theJournal of Personality and Social Psychology.
"Loneliness isn't a feeling to be ashamed of, but simply a way for your body to tell you that you need more connections just like hunger means you need food," says Shasta Nelson, founder of GirlfriendCircles.com, a women's friendship matching site, and author of the upcoming book.
When women were asked to rate how close they felt to their friends on a scale of one to 10—with ten representing the ideal level of "frientimacy"—more than 50 percent ranked their friendships under a five. "I believe that, for many of us, our loneliness isn't necessarily stemming from the fact that we don't know enough people, but rather that we don't feel close enough to a few of them to take care of need for connection," says Nelson.
"Responding to this type of loneliness means that we need to prioritize a few select people, even if it means saying no to other fun outings," says Nelson. "The only way to get closer to a few is to make more regular time with the same people repeatedly so that the time together can eventually go from updating to really revealing and sharing."
There are certain life stages—going to college, parenting a young child or being in the work world—when it's naturally easier to make friends because you're exposed to many like-minded people in similar situations. However, you may find it's harder to make or maintain friendships during, say, retirement because of changing circumstances.
"There are many factors that can impact friendships in your later years, such as retiring at different times, moving closer to grandchildren, more energy spent caring for aging parents and illness that makes you less mobile and therefore less able to meet friends," says Nelson.
You may feel surprised that you are feeling lonely if you have a lot of friends, but that could be because you need something specific in common with someone else who is experiencing the same life stage as you are or who is going through something similar (think: someone else who has cancer, another new mom, someone else who is retiring and wants to travel, someone else going through a midlife divorce). Remember that different friends meet different needs, so seek out new friends who are in the same boat as you, so to speak.
"The important thing is to not be discouraged with your current friends for not being able to meet this need—and keep appreciating all that they do bring to the relationship," says Nelson. "It's also important to not expect these new specific friends to be our best friends— let them serve the purpose we need without being discouraged if they aren't everything our best friends are or even if our other circumstances or world views are different."
Another reason you might experience more loneliness as you age: A huge number of older Americans today are single, including one-third of people ages 45 to 63. Divorce is also rising, and affects one in four people 50 and older.
Friends help keep you moving and your mind active—you're much more likely to join a class or go for a walk if you know that you have a friend waiting for you. "This goes a long way towards alleviating depression and isolation that can lead to all sorts of health issues," says Dr. Newman. "To stave off loneliness and its psychological and negative effects on health, it is helpful to relish small positive things such as helping someone or visiting a friend, or even completing small everyday tasks. If this is not possible, try to visualize future, positive events—a family get-together, a wedding, the birth of a grandchild, a trip."
Chronic loneliness can be a downer for your body as well as your mood. Surprisingly, a lack of friends is as harmful to your health as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day—and double that of obesity, according to a study of more than 1,000 people age 70 and older done over a 10-year period that was published in theJournal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
A lack of feeling connected might even shorten your lifespan. The same study mentioned earlier found that those who had a close circle of friends outlived those with the fewest pals by 22 percent. Another study inPLOSthat followed more than 300,000 people from around the world discovered that those with close relationships were 50 percent more likely to be alive at the end of the study. And a study by researchers at Brigham Young University earlier this year found that the subjective feeling of loneliness increases death risk by 26 percent, while social isolation and living alone were found to be even more harmful than feeling lonely, increasing mortality risk by 29 percent and 32 percent, respectively.
Being Ms. Popularity on social media doesn't protect you from loneliness. In fact, there is no correlation between people's Facebook usage and their overall friendship satisfaction or number of close friends, according to a "State of Friendship in America" report from GetLifeBoat.com. "Relying only on Facebook to socialize is not as rewarding as supplementing it with real-life face time," says Dr. Newman. "It's hard to get the same feeling of caring from a computer screen because you're missing the spontaneous laughs, warm hugs, and knowing nods."
Getting online might be one of the least intimidating ways to meet like-minded people and combat chronic loneliness. In fact, the fastest growing demographic in GirlfriendCircles.com is actually women over 55. You can also seek out a local group that matches your interests at MeetUp.com, where you'll find everything from knitting circles to book clubs to walking groups.
Just as technology can help you make new connections, it can also make it easier to keep in contact with old friends or family, which helps ward off isolation. Make a date with long-distance friends or relatives using Facetime on your iPhone or iPad, or download the Skype app to connect with them in real time on your computer.
Video: SURPRISING PSYCHOLOGICAL FACTS ABOUT LONELINESS
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