Are We Facing a Loneliness Epidemic? (4 Terrible Myths Debunked)
Although the digital era allows us to stay connected easier than ever, more and more people are finding themselves feeling lonely – and that was before the pandemic.
The social distancing rules and lockdown imposed by the COVID-19 outbreak have forced all of us to self-isolate. For some, this has been a great time to reflect and enjoy little things more than ever.
For others, it has been devastating.
Still, the issue of loneliness is widely debated as experts are trying to define it and examine how exactly it affects our modern society.
If you’re in the same boat, today we bust 5 of the most common myths about loneliness you should stop believing.
Myth #1: Loneliness means isolation
Feeling lonely and being alone are not synonyms – in fact, they’re the exact opposite! Many people can live alone or lack social interaction without being affected by it.
However, loneliness is more similar to feeling disconnected from the world around you. Lonely people usually struggle with the misconception that nobody understands or cares for them; they may also suffer from lacking the kind of connection they think they need.
Of course, self-isolation can play a big part in accentuating these feelings, but it’s not necessarily a decisive factor. You can feel lonely even when you are surrounded by close friends and family and that means there’s a bigger imbalance inside of you.
Myth #2: Loneliness is bad
Loneliness is definitely not easy; however, longing for human connections can help you to learn new ways of cherishing the people you do have in your life right now. The same process can help you establish better connections with new people – whether virtually or in real life.
According to social neuroscientist John Cacioppo, we’ve come to a state where we use loneliness to create better connections with those around us. The expert compares this process with thirst, saying that most of us are looking for water only when we’re thirsty. Since humans are designed by nature to live in groups, we all have an inner desire of belonging to those around us.
This theory is only valid when we’re talking about temporary loneliness. Usually, people come out of this state soon enough and find social balance again. However, if you end up with chronic loneliness, you may end up suffering from other mental health problems too such as anxiety or depression.
Myth #3: Older people are lonely
Unfortunately, loneliness is more commonly encountered in the elderly than in other adult age groups.
However, Pamela Qualter, researcher at the University of Manchester, also points out that there is a peak of loneliness in adolescence. This is a time of major physical and mental changes which can leave many teenagers feeling confused, frustrated or misunderstood. All of these emotions can lead to increased loneliness, even in teens who are surrounded by friends and family.
In the meantime, multiple studies have already shown that up to 60% of older people are not feeling lonely at all.
Myth #4: Loneliness makes you ill
Okay, I’ll admit that this one is more complicated. Many statistics and studies have already proven that long-term, chronic loneliness can have a severe impact on your physical health. For example, this study published in the journal Heart showed that loneliness can increase the risk of stroke and heart disease by up to one third.
While there’s some truth here, most research in the domain is cross-sectional and long-term, so we can’t draw any general conclusions based on such information alone.
Let’s put it this way: on one side, lonely people who live an unhappy life in the long run may be more severely ill than others. On the other side, some people may end up being lonely because their illness forces them to self-isolate.
Then, there’s also the possibility that lonely people are so pessimistic they simply stop taking care of themselves, which leads to unhealthy life choices (sedentarism, smoking, drinking alcohol, eating junk food); all of these factors can also increase the risk for long-term illnesses.
Are we facing an epidemic of loneliness?
Frankly, this is a very complex question. Loneliness cannot be measured as other health illnesses because it’s not a disease per se. Furthermore, as I explained earlier on, some people may feel temporarily lonely but end up with a good, constructive outcome.
According to statistics, 1 in 4 Americans report that they rarely feel as though nobody understands or cares for them. Meanwhile, half of the population has meaningful interactions and good-quality relationships. Every 1 in 5 Americans, though, says they rarely feel close to other people.
Considering that we’re stuck in a pandemic that forces us to self-isolate, I think we’re all facing a higher risk for loneliness. This is just one more reason why it’s so important to stay together and help each other overcome this unprecedented situation.
Here at Wellness Captain, our main purpose is to help you live a healthier, happier life. If I can help even one person feel less lonely, I think my mission is accomplished; if you or a loved one are going to a rough time, feel free to message us anytime.
The following posts may also help you during these strange times:
- Tired of COVID-19? Here’s How to Deal with Pandemic Fatigue
- Mindfulness During Pandemic – Maintaining Your Mental and Physical Health
- Best Quarantine Gadgets to Get You Through COVID-19
What are you doing to overcome loneliness? Share your tips in the comment section and let’s help each other stay strong and healthy this season!