Today we’ll ask, have you ever felt lonely? If so, you’re definitely not alone.
Now, what if you heard a voice say "I love you. I love you. I do! You’re so cute!" Wouldn’t that help your loneliness? Actually that was our parakeet, Buddy, who would give us those wonderful messages. He shared our home with Festus, our miniature poodle.
These pets were with us when I (Lynn) was finishing my doctorate. I had hours of studying alone, tucked away from the family. Our dog would lie down at my feet and Buddy was ready for a short conversation anytime to keep me from feeling lonely.
Actually, as pets can do, Buddy, prevented loneliness and also provided levity. One time, while sitting at the kitchen table an insurance agent was reading my policy and suddenly he looked up at me startled. He heard, “I love you. I love you. I do!” I quickly assured the agent that it was not I, it was Buddy, who uttered those sweet words from around the corner. Pets bring life into a home.
In our business and among friends and family, we see more and more people getting pets. Maybe it’s because of the recent pandemic and social distancing, but maybe it’s just because people are feeling lonelier.
We’re feeling lonely, too, when we think about friends that we miss and the good times together with them. Now we don’t know exactly what the protocol should be — masks or no masks, outside only, and when can you have an indoor party? A lot of changes happening which could affect the rate of loneliness.
Let’s clarify that being alone is not the same as being lonely. Some people are more introverted and enjoy more alone time, but that doesn’t mean they are lonely. And some people can be living with people and still feel lonely.
We learned that loneliness in the United States is rising, according to a study by Cigna released in May 2020. The study showed that young people born from approximately 1997 to 2012 reported the most loneliness. In the total population, 61 percent of Americans classify as lonely, which is an increase of 7 percent from the 2018 survey.
Surprisingly, in this day and age of technology that can connect us in seconds, 73 percent of heavy social media users reported being lonely and 52 percent of light social media users were lonely. What this could be pointing out is the importance of getting together face-to-face with people. Because of the virus situation, even when people get together, there’s a strange feeling with everyone wearing masks and/or being six feet apart.
So why is it important to try to lower feelings of loneliness anyway? It’s important because there are several risks to remaining lonely and many benefits to not being lonely.
First, what are the risks? Did you know that loneliness can lead to chemical abuse, increase in cardiovascular disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s and can even contribute to early death? When people are lonely, they tend to give up on life and adopt poor health habits. There’s also decreased sleep and creativity, poorer reasoning, and lowered immune system. Anxiety increases, as does depression and suicide.
Some research shows loneliness has the same detrimental health effect as smoking 15 cigarettes per day. Dr. Guy Winch said, “Loneliness is a greater health risk than smoking and obesity combined.” Wow! There are lots of health risks that go along with being lonely.
So, what can we do become less lonely? Doing these things may help:
- Develop meaningful relationships and have good friends.
- Have balance between work and personal life.
- Find a hobby or sport to share with others.
- Have a social life with enjoyable activities.
- Avoid addiction to social media.
- Have something to care for — pets, or even plants, may help.
- Volunteer for a worthwhile organization.
- Have rituals — go the same places and make conversation with the cashiers or servers.
- Join a place of worship and participate in a small group there.
What about you? Are you lonely? If so, we encourage you to reach out to friends, family, and your spiritual leaders.
Try some of the ideas we set forth here to help lessen loneliness and don’t hesitate to reach out for professional help if necessary.
Remember that you are not alone. The sooner you do the activities to lessen loneliness, the sooner you will meet other nice people. You’ll be glad you took steps toward an even more fulfilling life.