Loneliness: Our Need To Connect

Feelings of loneliness are a natural part of our emotional experiences in which we internally feel disconnected or rejected from other people.  However when feelings of loneliness and isolation become chronic or severe, it puts us at risk for physical and emotional/mental health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, respiratory illness, cancer, gastrointestinal issues, cognitive decline, dementia, depression, and anxiety.  In fact, research has shown that loneliness is a predictor of premature death because it targets the same parts of our brain as physical pain does.  

In order to effectively manage feelings of loneliness, we must first understand the root, or cause of them because not all feelings of disconnection or isolation are the same.  According to happiness expert Gretchen Rubin, there are 7 types of loneliness states that we can experience:

New situation: When we find ourselves in new circumstances, whether it is at a new job, place of residence, school, or in another unfamiliar setting.

I’m Different: When other individuals with whom our core beliefs, traits, or preferences differ surround us.

No Romance: Regardless of the amount or quality of the relationships someone may have with friends or family, the void of having an attachment to an intimate or romantic partner can create feelings of isolation.

No pet: Some of us seek out connections or attachments to animals because of the type of experience it provides that human connections oftentimes do not. 

Insufficient time: Relationships with friends, family, or intimate partners can leave us feeling lonely or disconnected when we find that the time and attention we are receiving from them is not enough.

Shallow friendships:  Lack of meaningful or authentic interactions and experiences and the inability to trust individuals we spend time with.  

Quiet presence: The need or desire to have someone else around just to hang out or spend quiet time with. 

And of course, one of the most common triggers to states of loneliness and isolation is the loss after the death of a loved one or the end of a relationship.

Once we can identify the type of loneliness we experience, we are then able to direct our efforts into the appropriate channels for alleviating it.  Here are some suggestions to creating connections with others:

  •       Initiate and engage in conversations with strangers
  •       Make efforts to get to know your neighbors, co-workers, or other people you come across          on a regular basis
  •       Volunteer in a setting that you have a passion for
  •       Schedule social events with friends on a regular basis
  •       Try a new hobby or activity that may involve the presence of other people
  •       Get involved with creative arts
  •       Adopt a pet or volunteer at an animal shelter
  •       Carve out uninterrupted quality time for family and intimate partners on a regular basis
  •       Set healthy boundaries around social media use

~ Cory Stege, M.S., LMFT