Why Are We So Lonely?

Have you ever felt like your life resembles a scene from the movies?

There’s the one where you’re riding your bike through the neighborhood at age seven, fast as you can, and glancing back for signs of The Terminator. And another where your true worth (finally!) shines through and the prince chooses you (yes, you!) over all the other gals in town.

And then, well, there’s this one: you in crowded room, sitting motionless as what seems like the world and all of its inhabitants whiz past and around you.

Not alone, but lonely nonetheless.

We’ve all been there. And it looks like more of us are returning to this scene than in years past. Let’s talk about why.

Feeling Lonely? Join the Club

girl walking alone in the cityThere’s a song lyric by the band Dr. Dog that says, “What does it take to be lonesome? Nothing at all.” And while this might be a nod to embracing independence, the literal meaning couldn’t be more true.

That’s because, as experts explain, loneliness comes down to perception. You don’t need to meet a specific criteria of isolation — you can be lonely without even being alone.1

The State of Loneliness in America Today

Nearly half of the 20,000 adults surveyed this year reported feelings of loneliness. Common frustrations include:

  • “No one really knows me.”
  • “Even though other people are with me, they’re not present.”
  • “I feel distant and disconnected from others.”2

These findings are concerning — and not just for the obvious reasons.

Loneliness Causes Other Serious Problems

Yes, loneliness is worth addressing in its own right. But you might not realize that, left untouched, loneliness can cause a host of other issues. In fact, researchers found associations between lonely feelings and the increased likelihood of:

  • Mental health issues
  • Chronic diseases
  • Dementia1
  • High blood pressure
  • Inflammation
  • Depression3
  • A shorter life span2

Why Are We So Lonely?

Lots of research and educated guesses go into answering this question. Let’s walk through some of the biggest reasons people feel lonely as well as ideas for combating our loneliness triggers:

1. Living alone.

Makes sense, right? It’s more common than ever before as the average age of marriage goes up.3
 
Quick tip: Invite friends or family over for regular hang time.

sleeping mask illustration

2. Lack of sleep.2

When we’re tired, everything seems worse.
Quick tip: Give yourself a bedtime and commit to hopping in bed on time every night.

armchair illustration

3. Sedentary lifestyle.2

Physical exertion matters. It affects not just your health but also your mood.
Quick tip: Choose a fitness routine with a built-in community aspect.

4. Poor health.

When you don’t feel well in body or in mind, you may be physically isolated from others or feel inadequate when it comes to the task of connecting.1, 4Quick tip: Reach out to your doctor or a professional counselor to discuss strategies for fighting off lonely feelings.

5. Age.

Researchers found that loneliness spikes in adolescence and again in the later years of life.

Quick tip: Set yourself up for success by fostering a few close relationships.1
 

thumbs up social media icon

6. Social Media.

You know how an hour-long scroll through Facebook can mess with your brain, making you feel unimportant and less-than.

Quick tip: Use social media to facilitate face-to-face meetings with friends.4

Loneliness Encourages Us to Practice Our Social Skills

Let’s end on a high note, shall we?

Scientists believe loneliness might just be a kick in the pants from nature — motivation to get out and start interacting with others.1 What a lovely thought.

Just as a pang of hunger reminds us to eat, the sting of loneliness reminds us to pick up the phone, visit a friend and do the hard work it takes to make connections with others. After all, we know that companionship and camaraderie are foundational to our understanding of what it means to be human.3

Be encouraged as you go throughout your life, to let loneliness act as a driving force — an opportunity to practice your social skills. Introduce yourself to new friends, schedule gatherings with old friends and make genuine togetherness a top priority.


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By Stephanie Thomas, Contributing Writer


Sources

1 Shankar, Aparna. Loneliness and Health. Oxford Research Encyclopedias, June 2017.

2 Pirani, Fiza. “Why Are Americans So Lonely? Massive Study Finds Nearly Half of US Feels Alone, Young Adults Most of All.” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 1, 2018.

3 Persons, Laura. “Lonely? You’re Not Alone.” Healthline, April 12, 2017.

4 Radcliffe, Shawn. “The American Loneliness Epidemic: Are Poor Social Skills to Blame?” Healthline, May 21, 2018.