Britney Spears wasn’t lying. Her words “My loneliness is killing me” aren’t just lyrics from the opening chorus of her 1998 hit single Baby One More Time. Loneliness can, indeed, be deadly.
According to research by Dr. John Cacioppo of the University of Chicago, loneliness is a contributor to poor health, including higher blood pressure and a weakened immune system. In addition, prolonged periods of isolation may indicate more serious long-term problems.
In fact, the overall mental health of our nation’s people is declining. Studies from the New York Langone Medical Center found that mental health issues are rising—more than 8 million Americans suffer from serious psychological distress. In our nation alone, we’ve seen a rise in middle-age suicides, which have spiked 40% in the last 10 years.
What can we do?
First, let’s clarify the difference between feelings of loneliness versus being alone.
Feeling lonely is rooted in a sense that something or someone is missing, whereas having time alone can be beneficial for maintaining better balance in our lives. There are multiple benefits of taking time to be alone for self-reflection and solitude. If our lives are filled with constant stimuli, healthy doses of alone time are not only necessary, but also refreshing and therapeutic.
On the other hand, if we are isolated on a regular basis for whatever reason, then a healthy dose of social time can help to balance our energies. I know this all too well. As a writer, I often need to retreat into my silence to cultivate new ideas—but I know that at some point, I will need to re-emerge from my seclusion in order to share my insights with the world.
Stuck in a rut and feeling alone? Here are a few tips to help lift you out of loneliness and return to a path of health and well-being, even while seated at a table for one:
Create a favorites list. Jot down your favorite things to do by yourself, including those activities that can help you feel up on down days. Whether it’s watching a favorite movie, reading a book, or listening to music that touches our souls, a simple change in perspective can shift our energy quickly and lift our spirits. Long-term relief often comes in small doses.
Cultivate healthy relationships. It may seem obvious, but the simple solution to offset loneliness is to be in the company of others more often. Our families and friends can be our closest connections and the people who know us best. Opportunities to build and grow healthy relationships are possible—in fact, our relationships will grow in depth and meaning over time when we invest in them.
Develop healthy self-esteem. Learning to love and accept ourselves is a lifelong endeavor, but it’s worth the investment. Self-esteem includes loving all parts of ourselves—our thoughts, feelings, and especially our bodies. It also means understanding that whomever we are, we are always worthy of love and respect from others and ourselves.
When in doubt, reach out. If you are suffering from prolonged feelings of loneliness, reach out and break the cycle. Phone a friend; go out for lunch; or just get out in public. Join a Meetup or other social group. Try volunteering—it can help change your perspective. Get out of the house and get out of your head. And, always, if you think you may be struggling with depression, contact your doctor or counselor for support. None of us were ever meant to go through life alone.
Michael Thomas Sunnarborg helps people maintain balance during transitions in their work, relationships, and life. Learn more at michaelsunnarborg.com