The world grows ever smaller, more connected, more crowded, and ironically, increasingly lonely for many of us. This is a problem with a whole host of unhappy consequences, not just for the individuals who experience it, but for society as a whole. It’s important to point out before I go any further that loneliness is not the same thing as being a private person, or a “loner,” because some of us actually both need and enjoy a lot of time to ourselves. Loneliness, instead, refers to the difference between the amount of social contact and intimacy you have and the amount you want. It’s about feeling isolated, like an outcast. (That said, the opposite of loneliness isn’t popularity either – you can have dozens of “friends” and still feel lonely. True intimacy and feelings of relatedness are much more about the quality of your relationships than the quantity.) Persistent loneliness is not only emotionally painful, but can be more damaging to our physical and mental health than many psychiatric illnesses. For instance, lonely people sleep poorly, experience severe depression and anxiety, have reduced immune and cardiovascular functioning, and exhibit sings of early cognitive decline that grow more severe over time.
April 13, 2019