Alone…Isolation or Solitude?

While common definitions of loneliness describe it as a state of solitude or being alone, loneliness is actually a state of mind and causes people to feel empty, alone and unwanted.  Loneliness, according to many experts, is not necessarily about being alone. Instead, it is the perception of being alone and isolated that matters most.  According to research by John Cacioppo, a University of Chicago psychologist and one of the top loneliness experts, loneliness is strongly connected to genetics. Other contributing factors include situational variables, such as physical isolation, moving to a new location, separation and divorce. The death of someone significant in a person’s life can also lead to feelings of loneliness.

Burt Uchino, the professor who led the research at the Universities of Utah and North Carolina, said: “Friends and supportive people can make life easier on a basic, every day level. They can also encourage you to have better health practices, see a doctor, exercise more. They may also help you indirectly by making you feel you have something to live for.”

Professor Uchino said that the emotional support people receive from those close to them can help put their problems into perspective.  “By having a secure relationship and feeling loved, people live much more secure, calm lives,” 

Kind of a scary thought for those who live alone and feel the pain of loneliness.  Remember, there is a difference between living alone and being lonely.  Many people are living alone and can lead happy lives. It may be of some benefit us to study some of these traits, because many of us are likely to be alone at some point in our lives. 

Points to consider:

Our culture has a high divorce rate.

Statistics show that wives outlive husbands.

Our society advocates self-sufficiency and independence.

Depression: One study found that lonely people showed more depressive symptoms, and that lonely and depressed people alike tended to experience less “togetherness” in social interactions. Research has also found that depression and loneliness can feed off of each other, each perpetuating the other.

Physical Health: Several studies have linked emotional stress with depressed immunity. Other research links loneliness and depression with poorer health and well-being.  That means that people who are experiencing loneliness are susceptible to a variety of health issues.

Loneliness has a wide range of negative effects on both physical and mental health. Some of the health risks associated with loneliness include:

The Health Consequences of Loneliness.

Depression and suicide

Cardiovascular disease and stroke

Increased stress levels

Decreased memory and learning

Antisocial behavior

Poor decision-making

Alcoholism and drug abuse

The progression of Alzheimer’s disease

Altered brain function

Treating and Preventing Loneliness:

John Cacioppo* offers a few tips on how to overcome loneliness:

Recognize that loneliness is a sign that something needs to change.

Understand the effects that loneliness has on your life, both physically and mentally.

Consider doing community service or another activity that you enjoy. These situations present great opportunities to meet people and cultivate new friendships and social interactions.

Focus on developing quality relationships with people who share similar attitudes, interests and values with you.

Expect the best. Lonely people often expect rejection, so instead focus on positive thoughts and attitudes in your social relationships.

* Cacioppo, J. T., Fowler, J. H., & Christakis, N. A…. Alone in the crowd: The structure and spread of loneliness in a large social network. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology…FREE PDF Book.

Language… has created the word “loneliness” to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word “solitude” to express the glory of being alone. 

Paul Tillich

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