You may worry about your drinking or pack-a-day smoking habit, but psychologists say there is a less recognized yet significant health hazard facing Americans: loneliness. How is that possible? I have 1500 friends on Facebook, for the love of pete. True, we can have more friends than ever, but Facebook creates a false sense of intimacy because it’s nearly impossible to have intimate friendships on a social media platform. In a recent University of Chicago survey found 20% of all individuals are at any given time unhappy because of social isolation. The sad part is, for most of us who are lonely, we’d rather not talk about it. Who cares? Well YOU should because lack of intimate friendships, someone to confide in, leads to unhappiness and even loneliness, which in turn creates physical illnesses. Besides the most obvious depression and suicide, in studies it has been tied to cardiovascular disease, increased stress, depressed memory, alcoholism, drug use and altered brain function.
People are so embarrassed about being lonely that few choose to admit it. Loneliness is stigmatized, even though everyone feels it at one time or another. Loneliness has an appalling reputation in American culture where the brash and confident are held to a higher regard than the shy introverts of the world. But the truth of the matter is, we are all social creatures and loneliness is color, sex, age, socio-economic, and religiously blind, and it doesn’t just affect a few people who lack social skills. At some time or another it could affect anyone, even you. So why do we make loneliness synonymous with being a loser? It’s built into our culture that thrives on resourcefulness, outgoing bubbly personalities, and successful people.
But what about you? As I said, everyone gets lonely from time to time, but what can we do? The first step is to recognize that loneliness is a sign that something needs to change. Step out of yourself and see, catalog, the effect the loneliness is having on your life and relationships, both mentally and physically. Step up to the plate, consider doing community service or some other forgotten activity you used to enjoy, because by getting out there you increase your chances to cultivate new friendships and social interactions. Step around distracting relationships and focus on developing quality relationships with people who share similar attitudes, interests and values. And last, step away from negative thoughts and expect the best. Lonely people often expect rejection, so instead of driving people away by focusing on the negatives of a relationship, focus on the positive thoughts and attitudes in your social interactions. We can’t expect others to “save” us, we have to learn to depend on what is within ourselves and be the catalyst of our own changes in direction because true peace is found within us, not made by the presence of others. They may enhance our happiness, but we generate it. Just a little high gravity for a Monday. Now, a little therapeutic shopping at Miamai and Violator is just what Dr. Cao ordered. I hope you have a unlonely sort of day today!