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Building Your Resilience

Having a Strong Life Purpose Eases Loneliness of Covid-19 Isolation, Study Finds

Those Who Felt Their Life Was Guided by Meaningful Values or Goals Were More Willing to Engage in Covid-19 Protective Behaviors

Summary:
Why can some people weather the stress of social isolation better than others, and what implications does this have for their health?
New research found that people who felt a strong sense of purpose in life were less lonely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why can some people weather the stress of social isolation better than others, and what implications does this have for their health? New research from the Communication Neuroscience Lab at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania found that people who felt a strong sense of purpose in life were less lonely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Did they achieve less loneliness by flouting public health guidance? No. Although lonelier people were less likely to want to follow public health guidance, people with a stronger sense of purpose also expressed more willingness to engage in social distancing, hand washing, and other COVID-19 protective behaviors.

Purpose in life, or a sense that your life is guided by personally meaningful values and goals – which could involve family ties, religion, activism, parenthood, career or artistic ambitions, or many other things — has been associated in prior research with a wide range of positive health outcomes, both physical and psychological.

“In the face of adversity, people with a stronger sense of purpose in life tend to be more resilient because they have a clear sense of goals that motivate actions that are aligned with personal values,” says Yoona Kang, Ph.D., lead author and a Research Director of the Communication Neuroscience Lab. “People with strong purpose may also experience less conflict when making health decisions. We felt that the COVID-19 pandemic was an important context to test whether purpose in life relates to individuals’ willingness to engage in behaviors to protect themselves and others.”

Based on their prior research, Kang and her collaborators expected that people with higher sense of purpose would be more likely to engage in COVID-19 prevention behaviors than individuals with a lower sense of purpose. In order to test their theory, the researchers surveyed more than 500 adult participants to capture their levels of purpose in life, their current and pre-pandemic levels of loneliness, and the degrees to which they intended to engage in behaviors known to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

They found that higher levels of loneliness made people be less focused on protecting themselves from COVID-19, and more skeptical that behaviors to prevent COVID-19 would be effective. However, having a stronger sense of purpose was associated with lower levels of loneliness and a greater desire to take action to protect themselves from COVID-19. Those with a higher sense of purpose also expressed a stronger belief that COVID-19 prevention behaviors would work. Even when people who had a strong sense of purpose did report being lonely, they still felt strongly about taking precautions to prevent COVID-19.

“When faced with extreme loneliness and social isolation, like during the COVID-19 pandemic, wanting to connect with other people, despite the health risks, is a natural response,” Kang says. “And yet, amidst this drastic shift in social life, we found that people with a higher sense of purpose were more likely to engage in prevention behaviors. This is striking because it shows that purpose in life can empower people to make life-saving health decisions that protect their own health and those around them.”

Additionally, the researchers found that older people expressed less loneliness during the COVID-19 pandemic than younger people. Kang sees this as a sign of the resilience of older adults, and she hopes to further study how to enhance purpose in life and resilience in aging populations.

“Having a stronger sense of purpose was associated with really important, positive outcomes across the lifespan,” says Emily Falk, senior author, Director of the Communication Neuroscience Lab, and Professor of Communication, Psychology, and Marketing. “Our upcoming work will test interventions to increase their sense of purpose, in hopes of bringing these benefits to more people.”

The study, published this month in The Gerontologist, is entitled “Purpose in Life, Loneliness, and Protective Health Behaviors during the COVID-19 Pandemic.” In addition to Kang and Falk, authors include Danielle Cosme, Ph.D.; Rui Pei, Ph.D.; Prateekshit Pandey; and José Carreras-Tartak.

Story Source:
Materials provided by University of Pennsylvania. Original written by Ashton Yount. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:
Yoona Kang, Danielle Cosme, Rui Pei, Prateekshit Pandey, José Carreras-Tartak, Emily B Falk. Purpose in life, loneliness, and protective health behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Gerontologist, 2021; DOI: 10.1093/geront/gnab081

June 16, 2021          Source: University of Pennsylvania          Science Daily

resilient

Building Your Resilience

We All Face Trauma, Adversity and Other Stresses. Here’s a Roadmap for Adapting to Life-Changing Situations, and Emerging Even Stronger than Before.

The Road to Resilience

Imagine you’re going to take a raft trip down a river. Along with slow water and shallows, your map shows that you will encounter unavoidable rapids and turns. How would you make sure you can safely cross the rough waters and handle any unexpected problems that come from the challenge?

Perhaps you would enlist the support of more experienced rafters as you plan your route or rely on the companionship of trusted friends along the way. Maybe you would pack an extra life jacket or consider using a stronger raft. With the right tools and supports in place, one thing is sure: You will not only make it through the challenges of your river adventure. You will also emerge a more confident and courageous rafter.

What is resilience?

Life may not come with a map, but everyone will experience twists and turns, from everyday challenges to traumatic events with more lasting impact, like the death of a loved one, a life-altering accident, or a serious illness. Each change affects people differently, bringing a unique flood of thoughts, strong emotions and uncertainty. Yet people generally adapt well over time to life-changing situations and stressful situations—in part thanks to resilience.

Psychologists define resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress—such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. As much as resilience involves “bouncing back” from these difficult experiences, it can also involve profound personal growth.

While these adverse events, much like rough river waters, are certainly painful and difficult, they don’t have to determine the outcome of your life. There are many aspects of your life you can control, modify, and grow with. That’s the role of resilience. Becoming more resilient not only helps you get through difficult circumstances, it also empowers you to grow and even improve your life along the way.

What resilience isn’t

Being resilient doesn’t mean that a person won’t experience difficulty or distress. People who have suffered major adversity or trauma in their lives commonly experience emotional pain and stress. In fact, the road to resilience is likely to involve considerable emotional distress.

While certain factors might make some individuals more resilient than others, resilience isn’t necessarily a personality trait that only some people possess. On the contrary, resilience involves behaviors, thoughts, and actions that anyone can learn and develop. The ability to learn resilience is one reason research has shown that resilience is ordinary, not extraordinary. One example is the response of many Americans to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and individuals’ efforts to rebuild their lives after tragedy.

Like building a muscle, increasing your resilience takes time and intentionality. Focusing on four core components—connection, wellness, healthy thinking, and meaning—can empower you to withstand and learn from difficult and traumatic experiences. To increase your capacity for resilience to weather—and grow from—the difficulties, use these strategies.

Build your connections

Prioritize relationships. Connecting with empathetic and understanding people can remind you that you’re not alone in the midst of difficulties. Focus on finding trustworthy and compassionate individuals who validate your feelings, which will support the skill of resilience.

The pain of traumatic events can lead some people to isolate themselves, but it’s important to accept help and support from those who care about you. Whether you go on a weekly date night with your spouse or plan a lunch out with a friend, try to prioritize genuinely connecting with people who care about you.

Join a group. Along with one-on-one relationships, some people find that being active in civic groups, faith-based communities, or other local organizations provides social support and can help you reclaim hope. Research groups in your area that could offer you support and a sense of purpose or joy when you need it.

Foster wellness

Take care of your body. Self-care may be a popular buzzword, but it’s also a legitimate practice for mental health and building resilience. That’s because stress is just as much physical as it is emotional. Promoting positive lifestyle factors like proper nutrition, ample sleep, hydration, and regular exercise can strengthen your body to adapt to stress and reduce the toll of emotions like anxiety or depression.

Practice mindfulness. Mindful journaling, yoga, and other spiritual practices like prayer or meditation can also help people build connections and restore hope, which can prime them to deal with situations that require resilience. When you journal, meditate, or pray, ruminate on positive aspects of your life and recall the things you’re grateful for, even during personal trials.

Avoid negative outlets. It may be tempting to mask your pain with alcohol, drugs, or other substances, but that’s like putting a bandage on a deep wound. Focus instead on giving your body resources to manage stress, rather than seeking to eliminate the feeling of stress altogether.

Find purpose

Help others. Whether you volunteer with a local homeless shelter or simply support a friend in their own time of need, you can garner a sense of purpose, foster self-worth, connect with other people, and tangibly help others, all of which can empower you to grow in resilience.

Be proactive. It’s helpful to acknowledge and accept your emotions during hard times, but it’s also important to help you foster self-discovery by asking yourself, “What can I do about a problem in my life?” If the problems seem too big to tackle, break them down into manageable pieces.

For example, if you got laid off at work, you may not be able to convince your boss it was a mistake to let you go. But you can spend an hour each day developing your top strengths or working on your resume. Taking initiative will remind you that you can muster motivation and purpose even during stressful periods of your life, increasing the likelihood that you’ll rise up during painful times again.

Move toward your goals. Develop some realistic goals and do something regularly—even if it seems like a small accomplishment—that enables you to move toward the things you want to accomplish. Instead of focusing on tasks that seem unachievable, ask yourself, “What’s one thing I know I can accomplish today that helps me move in the direction I want to go?” For example, if you’re struggling with the loss of a loved one and you want to move forward, you could join a grief support group in your area.

Look for opportunities for self-discovery. People often find that they have grown in some respect as a result of a struggle. For example, after a tragedy or hardship, people have reported better relationships and a greater sense of strength, even while feeling vulnerable. That can increase their sense of self-worth and heighten their appreciation for life.

Embrace healthy thoughts

Keep things in perspective. How you think can play a significant part in how you feel—and how resilient you are when faced with obstacles. Try to identify areas of irrational thinking, such as a tendency to catastrophize difficulties or assume the world is out to get you, and adopt a more balanced and realistic thinking pattern. For instance, if you feel overwhelmed by a challenge, remind yourself that what happened to you isn’t an indicator of how your future will go, and that you’re not helpless. You may not be able to change a highly stressful event, but you can change how you interpret and respond to it.

Accept change. Accept that change is a part of life. Certain goals or ideals may no longer be attainable as a result of adverse situations in your life. Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed can help you focus on circumstances that you can alter.

Maintain a hopeful outlook. It’s hard to be positive when life isn’t going your way. An optimistic outlook empowers you to expect that good things will happen to you. Try visualizing what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear. Along the way, note any subtle ways in which you start to feel better as you deal with difficult situations.

Learn from your past. By looking back at who or what was helpful in previous times of distress, you may discover how you can respond effectively to new difficult situations. Remind yourself of where you’ve been able to find strength and ask yourself what you’ve learned from those experiences.

Seeking help

Getting help when you need it is crucial in building your resilience.

For many people, using their own resources and the kinds of strategies listed above may be enough for building their resilience. But at times, an individual might get stuck or have difficulty making progress on the road to resilience.

A licensed mental health professional such as a psychologist can assist people in developing an appropriate strategy for moving forward. It is important to get professional help if you feel like you are unable to function as well as you would like or perform basic activities of daily living as a result of a traumatic or other stressful life experience. Keep in mind that different people tend to be comfortable with different styles of interaction. To get the most out of your therapeutic relationship, you should feel at ease with a mental health professional or in a support group.

The important thing is to remember you’re not alone on the journey. While you may not be able to control all of your circumstances, you can grow by focusing on the aspects of life’s challenges you can manage with the support of loved ones and trusted professionals.

APA gratefully acknowledges the following contributors to this publication:
David Palmiter, PhD, Professor of Psychology at Marywood University, Scranton, Penn.Mary Alvord, PhD, Director, Alvord, Baker & Associates, Rockville, Md.Rosalind Dorlen, PsyD, Member: Allied Professional Staff, Department of Psychiatry Overlook Medical Center, Summit, NJ; Senior Faculty, Center for Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis of New Jersey and Field Supervisor at the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology, Rutgers University.Lillian Comas-Diaz, PhD, Director, Transcultural Mental Health Institute, Washington, D.C.Suniya S. Luthar, PhD, Teachers College, Columbia University, New York City, N.Y.Salvatore R. Maddi, PhD, The Hardiness Institute, Inc., University of California at Irvine, Newport Beach, Calif.H. Katherine (Kit) O’Neill, PhD, North Dakota State University and Knowlton, O’Neill and Associates, Fargo, N.D.Karen W. Saakvitne, PhD, Traumatic Stress Institute/Center for Adult & Adolescent Psychotherapy, South Windsor, Conn.Richard Glenn Tedeschi, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

source: American Psychological Association.


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3 Mental Techniques That Boost Your Immune System

Lack of sleep, loneliness and stress are the main psychological factors that make people more vulnerable to infection, research finds.

However, loneliness can be combated by speaking to others using apps like FaceTime, Skype, Viber, WhatsApp and Google Duo.

Stress can be reduced with simple psychological exercises and sleep can be improved by following sleep hygiene guidelines.

Dr Christopher Fagundes, an expert on how mental health affects the immune system, said:

“We’ve found that stress, loneliness and lack of sleep are three factors that can seriously compromise aspects of the immune system that make people more susceptible to viruses if exposed.
Also, stress, loneliness and disrupted sleep promote other aspects of the immune system responsible for the production of proinflammatory cytokines to over-respond.
Elevated proinflammatory cytokine production can generate sustained upper respiratory infection symptoms.”

1. Loneliness

Studies have repeatedly shown that loneliness tends to make people more susceptible to infection.

People who spend less time around others are more likely to get sick when exposed to a virus, research finds.

Staying connected with others and experiencing positive emotions, though, can boost the immune system.

Dr Fagundes recommends video calls:

“There is some evidence that it may be better to video conference versus having a regular phone call to reduce feelings of isolation.
There’s something about chatting with people and having them visually ‘with’ you that seems to be more of a buffer against loneliness.”

2. Sleep

Sleep deprivation makes people more likely to get sick, said Dr Fagundes:

“The overwhelming consensus in the field is that people who do not consistently get a good night’s sleep—7-9 hours for adults, with variation on what is optimal—makes a person more likely to get sick.”

One of the best methods for improving sleep is called stimulus control therapy.

In general, though, having a regular sleep schedule, bedtime routine and prioritising sleep, all help people sleep better, scientists have found.

 

sleep

 

3. Stress

Stress is the third factor that can affect the performance of the immune system, said Dr Fagundes:

“It’s important also to note that when we talk about stress, we mean chronic stress taking place over several weeks, not a single stressful incident or a few days of stress.An isolated stressful incident does not seem to make a person more susceptible to a cold or the flu.”

Daily routines are a wonderful defence against stress, said Dr Fagundes:

“This will regulate your sleep and allow you to focus on immediate goals and plans.In turn, you will overthink things less and feel more accomplished.”

People who are particularly susceptible to worry may like to try this exercise, said Dr Fagundes:

“People often worry and overthink things because their brain is telling them there is something to solve.
However, it can be counterproductive after a while.
A good technique is to set aside 15 minutes a day where you allow yourself to worry, preferably with a pen and paper.
After that, you aren’t allowed to think about the issue for the rest of the day.”

A further step is to address cognitive distortions, said Dr Fagundes:

“People often convince themselves that a situation is much worse than it is by telling themselves things that are not true.
We call these cognitive distortions.
For example, it is common to catastrophize a situation by convincing themselves that the worst-case scenario is the most likely scenario.
When people learn to identify and then refute these thoughts, they often feel much better.”

 

The studies were published in various journals (Cohen et al., 2011; Cohen et al., 2018; Prather et al., 2016).
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog.
He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.

He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004.

 

source: PsyBlog        March 28, 2020


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5 Tips For Combating Loneliness During Lock Down

Weekends and weekdays are not what they used to be, with a pandemic happening all over the world, we are all told to stay home and self-isolate for an extensive period of time. Although this is to help reduce the spread of the virus and ensure we keep ourselves healthy and safe, more and more people will feel extremely lonely. Being told not to leave our homes can have a huge impact on our mental health as we feel isolated and cut off from the world. Naturally we want to communicate with others, go out freely and do what we do on a daily basis. So, having these restrictions put in place can be difficult for many. This is why it is important for those feeling lonely during this period of time to find ways to combat it.

It is extremely important that you keep yourself occupied or that you find ways into getting into contact with other people. Here are a just a few ideas to help fight your loneliness during your self-isolation time.

1) Make use of technology
Yes, you read it right. This might come across as a surprise as many people will be against others spending a long period of time on their mobile phones or laptops whilst being alone.

But it is all about how you utilize your mobile phone!

This does not mean spending hours scrolling endlessly on your Instagram or watching YouTube videos back to back that have no meaning. You want to take advantage of the things your mobile phone can offer.

There are millions of apps you can download falling under different categories. If you enjoy reading or listening to audiobooks, there is an app for that. If you want to learn a new skill, there is an app for that. If you want to learn a new language, there is an app for that. If you want to catch up with a group of friends and play a game, there is an app for that. If you want to connect with like-minded people (in industry, for dating etc), there is an app for that. Now it is easier than ever to do what you’ve always wanted to do through your mobile phone, there is a world and a wealth of knowledge at your finger tips. So take advantage and go for it!

2) Communication
It is hugely recommended that you try to avoid texting friends and family and instead opt for different forms of communication while you are self-isolating. This includes voice notes and video calls. Video calls are recommended as is truly is the best thing after face to face interaction. If you find yourself lonely, video call a friend or family member. Seeing their facial expressions and reading their body language will help you feel like you’re not alone in your home.

There is also the possibility of having Thursday night drinks online, or watching a movie synchronised with friends.

3) Find your community
Now is the perfect time to identify your community. By this I mean, think about what your passion is. Now I can guarantee you, you will find an online community for it. Explore different platforms and find support groups and online communities that fulfil your needs and interests. It is the perfect opportunity to meet like-minded people and allows you to be your true authentic and vulnerable self. You will begin to build your own safe space online, allowing you to escape from your home to a space filled with interesting people.

4) Keep yourself occupied
It is important that you fill the time you have while you are self-isolating, keeping yourself occupied. With so much time on your hands, you can find yourself overthinking leading to you feeling anxious and lonely. Keeping yourself occupied can simply mean tidying up your room, learning a new recipe, working on a business idea, thinking of how you can add value to your employers or even picking up that book you’ve wanted to read for some time.

It is also important to have some downtime, you can keep yourself occupied by watching a series on an online streaming platform or listening to an audiobook. Podcasts are also highly recommended as it gives the feeling you are surrounded by others in the room. This will stop you from feeling lonely as you will have distractions all around you.

5) Stay active
There is an emphasis placed on ensuring you stay active throughout this self-isolation period. As gyms and many parks are closed, there are several alternative options instead:

  • YouTube – YouTube has millions of workout videos you can do online from the comfort of your home. There are all kinds of workouts available, with something for everyone. In addition to lots of personal trainers offering online sessions live on Instagram.
  • Cycle – if you own a bicycle, go for a ride. This is a great way to stay active and also ensures you are not in contact with anyone whilst doing it.
  • Go for a walk – If you don’t own a bicycle or don’t want to work out at home, the best option is to go for a walk. Take a walk around your neighbourhood, allowing yourself time to relax and take in the scenery around you.

These are only a few suggestions to help you during your self-isolation. Give some a try and make sure you are always keeping yourself busy or communicating with others to help fight the feeling of loneliness. If you need help, confide in someone or call a helpline.

Stay home, Stay safe!

Bianca Miller Cole  Apr 4, 2020
 
smartphone

Four Ways to Help Prevent Loneliness
While You’re Social Distancing

What if we were told that the best way to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic was to smoke 15 cigarettes a day? What would you do?

Loneliness, we know from the research, can be as bad for your health as smoking. It’s more predictive of mortality than obesity. And loneliness itself was a pandemic long before covid-19 got its name. (Between 1990 and 2010, there was a threefold increase in the number of Americans who said they had no one in whom they could confide.)

So canceling church, school, work and sports means we are doing something that can be hazardous to our health — in order to save lives.

It sounds like a trap. But it’s more like a balancing act — a seesaw we all have to ride now. You can alter one side and stay in balance, but only if you change what’s on the other.

We’ve heard a lot about what not to do. Now it’s time to talk about what we can do. “Look, I wash my hands a lot,” says Monica Schoch-Spana, a medical anthropologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “But if that’s all people are told to do, it only takes you so far.”

There are at least four specific activities that can help compensate for all the things we are not doing, according to the research and my conversations with disaster experts, psychologists and epidemiologists.

Loneliness creates a kind of toxic chain reaction in our body: It produces stress, and the chronic release of stress hormones suppresses our immune response and triggers inflammation. And the elderly, who are most at-risk of dying from covid-19, are more likely to say they are lonely.

Fear also causes the release of stress hormones. And a pandemic involves massive amounts of uncertainty: by definition, the kind that won’t go away quickly. That kind of ongoing stress is hard for anyone to handle.

So what is the antidote? First, anyone who can exercise should do more of it now, every day. Physical exercise reduces stress and boosts immune functioning. “Outdoor activities are good. Going for a walk, riding a bike, those are all great,” says Caitlin M. Rivers, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins. You can even do this with a friend, assuming you both feel healthy and are not in high-risk groups (and assuming you stay six feet apart in places such as San Francisco, where public health officials have so ordered). “Our overall goal is to reduce the number of contacts we have with other people, but you have to strike a balance.” And there’s never been an easier time to exercise without going outside or to the gym. (My current “gym” is on my phone, through apps such as Aaptiv, as well as free online yoga classes.)

Second, social closening. (Yes, that’s a word, it turns out.) Relationships are as good for the immune system as exercise. In a meta-analysis of 148 studies that followed more than 300,000 people for an average of eight years, researchers found that positive social relationships gave people a 50 percent greater chance of surviving over time compared with people with weak social ties. This connectedness had a bigger impact on mortality than quitting smoking.

To keep your relationships active, the phone is your lifeline. I’ve set a personal goal to talk (actually talk, not text) with one or two friends, elderly neighbors or family members by phone every day until this pandemic ends.

The one upside of every disaster I’ve covered over the past two decades is that people feel a strong impulse to come together and help each other. So far, I’ve seen that same tendency play out among friends and neighbors, despite social distancing, and we all have to work to keep that going. The coronavirus gives us an excuse to check in with each other.

The third antidote is mindfulness. If you have resisted this trend so far, now may be the time to reconsider. Meditation reduces inflammation and enhances our immune functions, literally undoing the damage of self-isolation. There is evidence that prayer can have a similar effect.

I’ve been using the meditation app Headspace for 10 minutes every day for the past two years. The big surprise is that meditation is not about clearing your mind. It’s about managing your attention, and it’s a hard skill to learn without some kind of guidance. It may sound kind of woo woo, but the science is persuasive. More persuasive than it is for other things we do (such as taking multivitamins).

Fourth, do something small for someone else. In surveys, people say volunteering gives them a sense of purpose and reduces anxiety. In Ireland, a woman named Helen O’Rahilly has helped organize nearly 6,000 volunteers to help elderly and immune-compromised people get groceries, almost entirely through Twitter. In Louisville, Erin Hinson is matching volunteers with people in need using Google Docs. My son and another kid on our street created fliers offering to help run errands for anyone who can’t go outside.

Wherever they strike, disasters have a way of revealing our preexisting weaknesses. But they also open up opportunities. I’ve seen this again and again, from communities destroyed by Hurricane Katrina to families devastated by 9/11. There is a golden hour after disaster strikes, a chance to come together and build resilience.

But this doesn’t happen automatically. We have to seize the opportunity, without fear. Viruses may be contagious, but so is courage.

By Amanda Ripley     March 17, 2020
 
Amanda Ripley is a contributing writer at the Atlantic
and the author of “The Unthinkable: 
Who Survives When Disaster Strikes — and Why.”
 

How to Prevent Loneliness in a Time of Social Distancing

Here’s advice for preserving your mental health while avoiding physical proximity
With increasing numbers of people isolated because of quarantine and social distancing, COVID-19 is not the only public health threat we should be worried about—loneliness is one as well.
While scientists are rushing to understand how the coronavirus works, researchers have long understood the toll that social isolation and loneliness take on the body. People who do not feel connected to others are more likely to catch a cold, experience depression, develop heart disease, have lower cognitive function and live a shorter life. In fact, the long-term harm caused by loneliness is similar to smoking or obesity.
In January, a national survey found that 79 percent of Gen Zers, 71 percent of millennials and 50 percent of baby boomers feel lonely. Similarly, the proportion of people who belong to any kind of community group, such as a hobby club, sports league or volunteer group, fell from 75 to 57 percent over the past decade. Even without the coronavirus keeping us apart, it seems the majority of the population suffers from poor social health.
Although isolation is the right response to the coronavirus pandemic, we need the exact opposite in response to the loneliness epidemic. So how can you cultivate your social well-being while avoiding infection?
An obvious answer is the device you are reading this article on. People often blame technology for the prevalence of loneliness, pointing out that we spend too much time scrolling through social media and not enough of it interacting IRL. Yet recent research by my colleagues at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health paints a more nuanced picture: how you use such platforms seems to matter more than how much you do so. We can all benefit from developing digital habits that support meaningful human connections—especially now that it may be our only option until the outbreak calms.
Whether you are quarantined, working remotely or just being cautious, now is the perfect time to practice using technology in socially healthy ways. Here are a few suggestions for how to connect without contact.
Face-to-face from afar: The next best thing to in-person interaction is video chat, because facial cues, body language and other nonverbal forms of communication are important for bonding. When possible, opt for video over messaging or calling and play around with doing what you would normally do with others. For example, try having a digital dinner with someone you met on a dating app, a virtual happy hour with friends or a remote book club meeting.
One-minute kindness: Getting lots of likes on a social media post may give you a fleeting hit of dopamine, but receiving a direct message or e-mail with a genuine compliment or expression of gratitude is more personal and longer lasting—without taking much more time. When you find yourself scrolling through people’s posts, stop and send one of them a few kind words. After all, we need a little extra kindness to counter the stress and uncertainty of the coronavirus.
Cultivate your community: The basis of connection is having something in common. Whatever your niche interest is, there is an online community of people who share your passion and can’t wait to nerd out with you about it. There are also digital support groups, such as for new parents or patients with a rare disease. Use these networks to engage around what matters most to you.
Deepen or broaden: Fundamentally, there are two ways to overcome loneliness: nurture your existing relationships or form new ones. Reflect on your current state of social health and then take one digital action to deepen it—such as getting in touch with a friend or family member you haven’t spoken with in a while—or to broaden it—such as reaching out to someone you’d like to get to know.
Use a tool: Increasingly, apps and social platforms are being designed to help us optimize our online interactions with loved ones, including Ikaria, Cocoon, Monaru and Squad. If you do well with structure, these resources may be a useful option for you. Or you can consider using conversation prompts, such as TableTopics or The And, to spark interesting dialogue during a video call.
The coronavirus pandemic has reminded us that human connection can spread illness. But human connection also promotes wellness. Let’s take this opportunity to recognize the importance of relationships for our health and to practice leveraging technology for social well-being.
By Kasley Killam      March 12, 2020
ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)
Kasley Killam is an Master of Public Health candidate at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health
and a World Economic Forum Global Shaper who specializes in social health and well-being.
 


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10 Ideas to Help With Loneliness

Have you ever been lonely in a crowd? Have you ever been perfectly content all alone? Me too. And I have also suffered from loneliness.

Loneliness is a complex mental and emotional phenomenon that has at its base a powerful emotion that has survival value for children. All of us have experienced some degree of abandonment, if only for a short time, and remember the painful and scary feeling that goes along with it.

Whenever we are reminded of this feeling or anticipate it in the future, we get a twinge of abandonment distress that we experience as loneliness. This can happen among a crowd of friends or even after making love. It can be pretty confusing and can put you off your game if you don’t know what’s going on.

Here are some tips for recognizing loneliness for what it is and dealing with it in the healthiest ways.

1. Realize that loneliness is a feeling, not a fact. When you are feeling lonely, it is because something has triggered a memory of that feeling, not because you are in fact, isolated and alone. The brain is designed to pay attention to pain and danger, and that includes painful scary feelings; therefore loneliness gets our attention.

But then the brain tries to make sense of the feeling. Why am I feeling this way? Is it because nobody loves me? Because I am a loser? Because they are all mean? Theories about why you are feeling lonely can become confused with facts. Then it becomes a bigger problem so just realize that you are having this feeling and accept it without over reacting.

2. Reach out because loneliness is painful and can confuse you into thinking that you are a loser, an outcast. You might react by withdrawing into yourself, your thoughts, and your lonely feelings and this is not helpful. At its best, anticipation of loneliness might motivate us to reach out and cultivate friendships, which is the healthiest thing to do if you are sad and alone. When you are a child, and your sadness causes you to cry, you may evoke a comforting response from others. If you’re an adult, not so much.

3. Notice your self deflating thoughts.  We often create self centered stories to explain our feelings when we are young, it is not unusual for children to assume that there is something wrong with them if they are not happy. If they are lonely and sad, children may assume other people don’t like them when this is rarely the case.

Victims of bullying may well have fans and friends, but they often aren’t aware of it because the shame and loneliness get more attention. Habitual assumptions about social status continue into adulthood and if you are looking for evidence that the world sucks, you can always find it.

4. Make a plan to fight the mental and emotional habits of loneliness. If you realize you are dealing with an emotional habit, you can make a plan to deal with loneliness. Since healthy interaction with friends is good, make some effort to reach out to others, to initiate conversation and face time even when your loneliness and depression are telling you not to. Yes, it is work, but it is worthwhile, just like exercising is worthwhile even when you are feeling tired or lazy.

5. Focus on the needs and feelings of others, the less attention on your lonely thoughts and feelings. I can walk down the street thinking about myself, my loneliness and the hopelessness of it all, staring at the sidewalk and sighing to myself. Or I can walk down the street grateful for the diversity of people I get to share the sidewalk with, silently wishing them good health and good fortune, and smiling at each person I meet. The latter is more fun, even though I sometimes have to remind myself to do it on purpose.

6. Find others like you. Now days there are more tools than ever before to find out where the knitters, hikers or kiteboarders are congregating so that you can get together with those who share your interests. This makes it much easier to identify groups with which you will have something in common, a natural basis for beginning a friendship.

7. Always show up when meeting up with others. You don’t have to run for president of the knitters society at your first meeting. But you do have to show up. I have been telling others to practice yoga for 20 years and promising I would do it myself for just as long, but except for the occasional coincidental yoga offering at a retreat, I didn’t take the trouble of finding a class I could attend regularly until a month ago. Now I am enjoying it and it wasn’t that hard. I have put a reminder in my phone to resign from the procrastinator’s society.

8. Be curious, but don’t expect perfection or applause. Each time you show up is an experiment, a micro adventure in social bonding. If you are curious about and interested in others, they will be attracted to you because you are giving them attention. So you will get attention in return. Curiosity about others also takes your focus away from those painful feelings that tend to make you hide and sulk.

9. Kindness goes a long way. “There’s nobody here but us chickens.” This is one of my favorite lines from The Lazy Man’s Guide to Enlightenment by Thaddeus Golas. Underneath the impressive facades of the high fliers are the same set of emotions we all are born with. Celebrities suffer from stage fright and depression too.

You have the power to offer loving kindness and generosity of spirit to all you come into contact with. It isn’t instinctual to be kind to strangers or people who scare you. But it is a choice. It is a choice that Jesus and Ghandi used intentionally. And in the long run it is a winning choice. The alternative, being mean or stingy with those you don’t know well, can get you a reputation as a Scrooge.

10. Be persistent even if a particular group does seem to be a dead end for you, try another. AA and AlAnon recommend that everyone try six different groups to find one that suits you best. If you are persistent, challenging the assumptions and feelings that tell you to give up and resign yourself to a life of loneliness, and showing up and being curious and kind to others and more and more groups, the odds are in your favor.

And once you have a friend or two, nourish those friendships with time and attention. Don’t be too cautious about whether you are giving more than you are getting at first. If you make more friends and some of them are takers, you can choose to spend more time with the friends who reward your friendship.

Brock Hansen     YourTango     8 Jul 2018

 

loneliness

 

Mindfulness and its proven impact on loneliness: What you should know

(BPT) – Maybe you know someone who stands by taking five minutes each morning to meditate or finds time after lunch to quiet his or her mind and focus on breathing. Whatever the method may be, incorporating “mindfulness” practices into your life can have a wide range of positive health benefits like improving your memory, sleep and immune system; reducing stress and feelings of loneliness and increasing compassion toward others and yourself.

Mindfulness means taking time to pay attention to yourself and your thoughts and feelings. Read on to learn how you can put mindfulness into practice in your life to help improve your overall health.

How to make mindfulness a routine part of your day.

  1. Find five to ten minutes each day to sit quietly and focus on your breath. (Helpful hint: Put your phone on silent or in another room so you can concentrate!) Take the time to notice where your mind goes and how your body is feeling. You just might find that this helps you focus and prioritize your day.
  2. Before you go to bed take time to focus on the good things that happened that day. Write your thoughts down in a journal. Writing them down can help you deliberately recognize the positive, even on a tough day.
  3. Search for “mindfulness apps” on your smartphone or tablet that lead you in a mindfulness exercise. For many people, using an app is an easy way to remain consistent with the practice. And many of these apps are free!

Feeling lonely? Mindfulness can help.

Mindfulness has been shown to help older adults overcome a silent but urgent health issue: loneliness. It is estimated that more than half of adults age 65 and over regularly experience moderate to severe loneliness. Loneliness is characterized by a marked difference between someone’s desired companionship and actual relationships. Through unique studies conducted by UnitedHealthcare and AARP, researchers are applying the techniques of mindfulness to help combat loneliness in older adults.

Loneliness poses a serious threat to the quality of life for older adults. It is linked to negative health outcomes such as higher risk of dementia, mortality and disability.

“The health risk of chronic loneliness, in older adults, is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and has a greater impact on mortality than obesity,” said Dr. Charlotte Yeh, M.D., chief medical officer, AARP Services Inc. “That is why UnitedHealthcare and AARP Services Inc. are collaborating to identify actionable solutions, geared for any individual across the spectrum of loneliness.”

Researchers looked at whether mindfulness interventions, like breath awareness, self-compassion and kindness exercises, could positively impact a person’s optimism and quality of life — all factors that help reduce loneliness.

Conclusions were encouraging: Mindfulness activities were shown to decrease loneliness among older adults. The research demonstrated that mindfulness reduced stress, and improved memory, sleep, the immune system, resiliency and compassion for self and others.

Although loneliness is complex and challenging to address, a mindfulness practice may help you live your best life.

Friday, June 28, 2019                Brandpoint 


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Does Living Alone Increase Mental Health Risk?

A new study has concluded that living alone is linked to common mental disorders. The authors have also identified the main driver of this worrying relationship.

Some common mental disorders (CMDs) include mood disorders, anxiety, and substance use disorders.

According to some studies, almost one-third of people will experience a CMD in their lifetime.

These conditions can have a significant impact on the individual, of course, but due to their high prevalence, they also affect society at large.

Due to the widespread influence of CMDs, scientists are keen to understand the full range of risk factors that feed into mental health.

In recent years, scientists have investigated whether living alone might be one such risk factor.

A new study, the results of which now appear in the journal PLOS ONE, takes a fresh look at this question. The study authors conclude that there is a link between living alone and CMDs. They also find that it affects all age groups and sexes, and that primarily, loneliness is the driver.

Living alone

The number of people living alone is steadily growing throughout much of the Western world; this is due to a number of reasons, including the aging population, people tending to get married at an older age, and increased divorce rates.

Researchers have already looked at the relationship between CMDs and living alone, but most have focused on older adults, so their findings may not apply to other age groups.

Also, earlier studies generally focused on just one mental condition: depression. This might not provide the full picture.

Previous work has also not quantified how other factors influence this relationship; for instance, people who live alone are more likely to be overweight, smoke, use drugs, and lack social support. So which of these, if any, is the main driver of CMDs?

The authors of the new study aimed to fill in some of these gaps. They looked for links between living alone and CMDs in general, and they investigated which factors seemed to be influencing the relationship.

 

Looking at the data

To investigate, scientists from the University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines in France analyzed data from 20,503 adults, ages 16–74, living in England. The data came from three National Psychiatric Morbidity Surveys that experts conducted in 1993, 2000, and 2007.

Participants completed Clinical Interview Schedule-Revised questionnaires, which assessed whether they had experienced neurotic symptoms during the previous week.

The surveys also collated data on a range of variables, including height and weight, level of education, employment status, alcohol and drug use, social support, and feelings of loneliness.

As expected, the authors found that the number of people living alone has steadily grown. In 1993, 8.8% lived alone. This is compared with 9.8% in 2000 and 10.7% in 2007.

Their analysis also showed that across all age groups and sexes, there was a significant association between living alone and having a CMD. The size of this relationship was fairly similar across the three surveys.

CMDs were more common in those living alone than those not living alone:

1993: 19.9% vs. 13.6%
2000: 23.2% vs. 15.5%
2007: 24.7% vs. 15.4%

The trouble with loneliness

When the scientists delved deeper into the relationship between CMDs and living alone, they found that loneliness explained 84% of the association.
Earlier studies had shown that loneliness is linked with depression and anxiety. Others still had investigated whether loneliness might increase mortality risk.
During what some experts call a “loneliness epidemic,” this finding is particularly important. Similarly, because ill mental health is a growing concern, understanding the risk factors associated with CMDs might help turn the tide.
Of course, not everyone who lives alone is lonely. However, for those who are, interventions to tackle loneliness are available. These may include talking therapies, social care provisions, and animal-based interventions.
The next and most challenging step is to find ways to ensure that people in need get access to these tools.
The researchers acknowledge certain limitations to the study. For instance, this was a cross-sectional study, meaning that it looked at a snapshot of people at one point in time. The authors call for longitudinal studies to ascertain how this relationship might play out over time.
As with any study of this nature, assessing cause and effect is not possible: Did a person develop a CMD because they lived alone, or did they develop a CMD and then decide to live alone?
Or, perhaps, someone with a predisposition for CMDs is more likely to want to live alone. As ever, scientists will need to carry out more work to fill in the gaps.
Earlier findings back up these results, but the new findings also go a few steps further; they show that the relationship between mental health and living alone is stable across time, that the link is not restricted to older adults, and that loneliness plays a pivotal role.
Thursday 2 May 2019       By Tim Newman Fact checked by Jasmin Collier


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How to Stay Mentally Healthy During the Holidays

Do the holidays stress you out? You’re not alone. It’s a hectic time of year for many people, maybe even most people.

Nothing about our usual daily life goes away. The holidays add a layer of activities and responsibilities, both real and imagined, that take up time, money and emotional energy. Even if we enjoy many aspects of the season, there may well be moments when we wish we could rewind the calendar to somewhere in the middle of August.

I can’t reverse the calendar, but I can remind you of some strategies for maintaining your sanity during this most pressured time of year.

  • Recognize that the people in your life are who they are. It is not new information who will be the Scrooge, who will drink too much, who will have unrealistic expectations or who will be generous to a fault. No one is going to change just because it’s the holidays. Let go of the idea you can change anyone who bugs you. Find constructive ways to minimize their impact on your life. Put your energy and time into those who know how to love and whose presence makes you happy.
  • Give yourself permission to let some things go. Take a moment each morning to gather your thoughts. Make a list of all the things you have to do and want to do. Check off the two or three items that are really important to you. Let yourself entertain the idea of letting go of many of the others — or at least reducing them in some way. Many of us make our own stress by buying into the “have to’s.”
  • Take time every day to enjoy something about the season. It’s easy to get caught up in the busyness of decorating and shopping and baking and wrapping. But are you enjoying any of it? Stop. Breathe. Take a few minutes to enjoy the decorations on the lampposts or to really look at the lights. Savor one of the cookies. Inhale the warm smells coming from your oven. Wrapping a gift can be just another chore or it can be a way to quietly celebrate what the intended receiver means to you.
  • Take care of yourself. We should do this all the time but it’s especially important to get enough sleep, to eat right, and to get some exercise every day when stressed. Self-care is not an “extra,” even though it may seem to take too much time. Time invested in yourself each day will more than pay off in your general sense of well-being throughout the season.
  • Everything in moderation. Be mindful of your own tipping points when it comes to holiday indulgences. You already know your limits for alcohol and sweets. Listen to your own good sense and you’ll avoid waking up with regret, a hangover or an extra five pounds.
  • Stick to your budget. Forty-five percent of those polled in a recent survey done by Think Finance (a provider of payday loans) said that the financial stress of the holidays makes them wish they could skip the whole thing. This was true across all income levels. Yes, it’s difficult to resist the commercialism, the hype, the buy, buy, buy messages that are everywhere. But it’s important to remind ourselves that overspending is not the only way to express love. Gifts that are made by the giver often are more meaningful and treasured than anything that comes from a store. Spending quality time with someone sometimes is the best present of all.
  • Reach out. Lonely? Being alone, far from family or without one during the holidays is a key source of stress for many people. Connect with friends and plan some activities that celebrate the season — even if it’s just enjoying a peppermint stick in a cup of tea. Attend your house of worship and stay if there is a coffee hour. Get into the holiday spirit by volunteering at a soup kitchen or charity event for needy children. Being in a festive atmosphere with other good people who are doing good work is a great antidote for loneliness.
  • Do random acts of kindness. Get into the season of giving. Let someone else have that parking space near the store. Compliment the harried store clerk. Let the mom who is shopping with kids go ahead of you in line. Be generous with street musicians. Doing good will make you feel good — or at least better.
  • Be grateful. Research has shown that taking the time to be grateful every day has enormous physical and mental health benefits. It helps build our immune systems, keeps us in touch with the positive aspects of life, and connects us with others. So keep a holiday gratitude journal. From now until the New Year take a few minutes every day to write down at least three things you are grateful for. They don’t have to be huge events. Sure. If you win the lottery tomorrow, you can be grateful for that. But short of such a windfall, we can be grateful for having enough food to eat or for getting a phone call from a friend or for the neighbor whose holiday lights make us smile.

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The holiday season may be busy, but it doesn’t have to drive us insane. We do have the ability to bring down the stress and bring up the joy. After all, the best gift we can give ourselves and those around us is our own peace of mind.


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Fun Fact Friday

  • Simply looking at a photo of someone you love can help relieve pain.

  • Scientists usually omit left-handed people from tests because their brain works differently.

 

  • Pretending you don’t have feelings of anger, sadness, or loneliness can literally destroy you mentally.

  • Chocolate milk was invented in Jamaica.

 

Happy Friday!
source: @Fact


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Loneliness Even Unhealthier Than Obesity

Loneliness Even Unhealthier Than Obesity, Should Be A Public Health Priority: Psychologist

Loneliness should be a major public health concern, according to an American psychologist.

Loneliness is a major health risk, like obesity or smoking, and public health programs should address it in the same way, says a psychologist.

New research by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University, found that social isolation contributes as strongly to mortality as does smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

“This is something that we should all be taking seriously for our health,” she said.

Holt-Lunstad’s research, presented at a conference of the American Psychological Association, analyzed studies on mortality risk to find out how feelings of social isolation and loneliness compared to other risk factors. She found that it has a greater effect than obesity or exercise.

Having few social connections is associated with various health effects, she said, such as cardiovascular problems, immune response, cognitive decline, and cellular aging, she said. But having other people around helps in other ways too: people are more likely to take their medication, to exercise, and to visit the doctor with encouragement from others.

“Our relationships help provide a sense of meaning and purpose in life. And that can translate to better self-care as well as less risk-taking,” said Holt-Lunstad.

Isolation

It’s an important message at a time when more Canadians than ever are living alone – one of the risk factors examined by Holt-Lunstad in her research.

Census data shows that 28.2 per cent of Canadian adults lived alone in 2016 – the highest proportion since Confederation. And, for the first time, this was the most common household type in the country.

This is partly due to Canada’s aging population, according to Statistics Canada, though more than one-in-10 Canadians under 60 also lives alone.

But everyone can feel the effects of loneliness, said Holt-Lunstad.

“We tend to assume that this is an issue that may be specific to older adults or the elderly, and while of course, that population is important to consider, it’s not isolated to that group,” she said.
“When we look across the data, this affects both men and women. We don’t see any effect in terms of it being stronger in older age and in fact, we have some evidence to suggest that it may be stronger in those under 65.”

 

Until the age of 60, men are more likely than women to live by themselves. This reverses after 60, likely due to men’s lower average life span, meaning there are lots of widowed women. More than half of women over 85 are living alone, according to census data.

A recent survey of seniors by the Canadian Association of Retired Persons found that more than 16 per cent of respondents reported lacking companionship. Fourteen per cent said they have nobody to talk to.

And another survey by the Vancouver Foundation in 2012 found that 25 per cent of residents of that city said they were alone more often than they would like to be.

Public health programs

Holt-Lunstad would like to see information about the effects of loneliness be included in public health programs in the same way information about the dangers of smoking or obesity is.

“I’ve heard people say things like, ‘You can’t put good relationships in the water.’ Or, ‘We can’t legislate that like we may be able to do with a Clean Air Act,’” she said. While that’s true, she believes people should prioritize their relationships in the same way that many have started to do with regular exercise.

“If we approach it as we can all be working on nurturing and fostering our own relationships, this may have a much broader population-wide impact.”

She also believes that research about the health impacts of loneliness should be included in medical training so that doctors can screen their patients for social isolation and provide information when needed. Kids should also learn about relationships the same way that they learn about nutrition, as a way to prevent future problems.

Holt-Lunstad’s research will be published next month in the journal The American Psychologist.


By Leslie Young   National Online Journalist, Investigative       Global News


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The Solution to Millennial Loneliness

How do we stop being so lonely?

On a cold, moonless night, the co-owner of Macy’s department store and his wife were aboard the sinking Titanic. Mrs. Straus distributed blankets to the women and children in Life Boat No. 8. But, when asked to enter the lifeboat herself, she refused to leave Mr. Straus’s side. “All these years we have traveled together, and shall we part now? No, our fate is one,” she explained. Two sailors tried to force her in, and she wrangled herself free, looking at her husband. “Where you go, I go,” she said. The couple was last seen arm in arm on the deck, the finale of their forty years together.

Today, a different sentiment dominates. It’s closer to, “Where you go, I might consider visiting.” The individual comes first.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about why millennials are lonely. In short, it’s because loneliness is contagious (literally), and the internet exacerbates it. Our “infectious isolation,” I concluded, is mounting.

This is problematic for lots of reasons: In animals, social isolation shortens lifespan, promotes obesity and diabetes, hinders psychosexual development, and increases cortisol levels. In humans, social isolation has, according to Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, “an impact on health comparable to the effect of high blood pressure, lack of exercise, obesity or smoking.” Socially isolated people are more than twice as likely to die of heart disease. They’re also more stressed, less creative, have lower self-esteem, and feel less in control of their lives than non-lonely people.

So how do we stop being lonely?

I think the answer starts with priorities. Social connection has become less important to us. One large cross-sectional study found that subjective loneliness actually declined slightly between 1978 and 2009 in adolescents, while objective social isolation increased. High school students in 2009, the study’s authors write, “reported fewer friends with whom to interact, but less desire for more friends.” Meanwhile, empathy decreased, and insecure attachments increased.

This is consistent with my own experience. Since graduating college, I’ve put friendships on the back burner. I even emailed someone wanting to grab coffee a couple months ago that “I’m just incapable of making friends right now. There’s a little too much going on with work.” The fact that today many people’s best friends are from college may attest to the amount of effort we put into friendships after college.

When I was suffering from a bout of loneliness last year, my boyfriend told me to just go out and meet people. Well, I’m not that lonely, I thought. But recovering from our society-wide isolation will require effort.

Just meeting people, however, isn’t enough. We also need to sacrifice for them. In response to my last article, several readers pointed out that trust is missing from many modern friendships. I think trust is the feeling that someone has your back no matter what. And, today, the truth is very few people do.

In a 2012 op-ed for the New York Times, Sherry Turkle wrote that we’re “increasingly drawn to technologies that provide the illusion of companionship without the demands of relationship.” Millennials may be lonely not just from insufficient social interaction, but also due to insufficient social obligation.

Generational researcher Jean Twenge has found that millennials are significantly more likely than adolescents in the 1970s to describe themselves using traits like “independent” and “assertive.” The resulting gains from this attitude are real, and shouldn’t be discounted — particularly for women. But it’s also, in a way, too bad.

My friends and I have talked about how you never know whether to stay in a city, because your friends could leave soon for some better job somewhere else. If you stayed, hoping they’d stick around, you’re SOL. (Even the prospect that you’d consider them before your career is embarrassing.) Our solution to get everyone to stay put, we joke, is to build a commune. But we know that will never happen. And we know, if we get a better opportunity elsewhere, we’ll leave.

Our commune dream is for something quasi-contractual to keep us together. This is also why, though millennials are marrying later, many of us quietly crave a ring. But marriage, indeed, is a perfect example of our stubborn determination to be a, or at least give, the bird: we’re marrying later — by an average of six years since 1960 — to extend our geographic and professional autonomy.

Amazingly, research has found that attachment to even just a place reduces loneliness. If everyone decided to remain in the same city or town for a lifetime, as they did for centuries before now, we’d receive the two best remedies for loneliness: a home and a community.

I know that’s unrealistic. But before genuine connection sinks altogether, it’s worth thinking about what such a loss would actually mean. Seventeenth-century English poet John Donne wrote that, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.” We like to believe we’re floating free. But we need each other, and acting otherwise results more in isolation than true independence.

A version of this article originally appeared on Forbes.
Apr 25, 2017    Caroline Beaton      The Gen-Y Guide


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Is Living Alone the Unlikely Answer to Loneliness?

New research shows that people who live alone are less lonely.

The authors of the book Loneliness describe their concern that Western societies do not take the inherent gregariousness of humans seriously enough. They note that “the latest figures show that ever-greater numbers of people are accepting a life in which they are physically, and perhaps emotionally, isolated from one another.” Among the evidence they cite in support of that fear is the growing number of people who live alone.

It seems intuitive that people who live alone would be lonelier than people who live with others. Most single people do not live alone, yet single people are believed to be lonelier than married people. I’ve found evidence of this in my own research, and researchers in other countries have as well.

A new study of loneliness, based on a large sample of German adults, examined the links among loneliness, living alone, and living single. The research was based on data collected in 2013 from more than 16,000 Germans ranging in age from 18 to 103, who represented more than 10,000 households.

The authors found that when they compared people who lived alone to people who lived with others—focusing on that key aspect of their living arrangement and not letting other factors muddy the picture—the people who lived alone were less lonely.

They also tried to make the case that single people are lonelier, and seemed to imply that if they were to get married, their loneliness would subside. But they ended up showing that they really don’t understand basic methodologies, and that they don’t appreciate, psychologically, how the experience of living single after you get divorced or become widowed could profoundly differ from the experience of living single all your life.

Loneliness and Living Alone: The Link Is Not What You Think

When the authors simply compared the people who lived alone with those who lived with others, the people who lived alone reported more loneliness. But people who live alone differ from the people who live with others in all sorts of ways, so we don’t know, without looking more closely, if living alone really is linked with greater loneliness.

Fortunately, the authors took this step. They found that one way people who live alone differ from others is in their income. So they controlled for income statistically, which means that they essentially compared people at the same level of income to see how loneliness differed between those living alone and those living with others.

Here’s what they found: When people who live alone have the same income as people living with others, the people who live alone are less lonely.

The authors conclude that “living alone may even have beneficial effects on the quality of one’s social relationships” and add, as researchers often do, that more research is needed. Many studies already show the ways in which single people are more connected to other people than married people are, and demonstrate that it is the people who marry, rather than those who stay single, who become more insular.

The research does not show that living alone is a cure for loneliness. Among the people who live alone are those (we don’t know exactly how many) who chose to live that way. If people who prefer living with other people were urged to live alone, we don’t know what would happen. Maybe they would make an effort to form and maintain the kinds of social ties that keep loneliness at bay. Or maybe they would just end up lonely.

The Link Between Loneliness and Single Life

The authors used their data to compare three groups:

  • People who are single and not living with a partner;
  • People who have a romantic partner but are not living together; and
  • People who are living with a romantic partner (and are often married).

They seem to think they know what they are going to find, because in their view, previous research shows that, “Being married is robustly associated with lower levels of loneliness.” They report that in their own research, “average loneliness levels were highest among singles and lowest among those living with their partners.”

The implication seems to be that if only those single people would get married, their loneliness would dissipate. The authors never quite say that married people are less lonely because they are married, but that seems to be the implication.

The problem is, neither their data, nor the data from the previous research they cite, could ever establish that getting married causes people to be less lonely. In fact, the design of the studies and the comparisons they use are a set-up, biased to make married people look less lonely than they really are. The studies compare only people who are currently married (or living with a romantic partner) to those who are single. They set aside all of the people who got married, felt desperately lonely in their marriage, and then got divorced. No, wait—the authors of this paper did not set them aside. If the people who got divorced are still single, the authors included them in the single group, along with the lifelong single people.

And what about people who are widowed, and who may indeed feel deeply lonely without their spouse? They are also included in the group of lifelong single people.

Here’s what their data really show: If you include all of the people who are widowed (and may well be quite lonely) in the group of single people, as well as all of the people who chose to marry but then divorced (and may also be feeling lonely on their own after having been married), then the people who are left in the married group are less lonely than the people who were included in the single group. But does that mean that if all the single people got married, they would become less lonely? No, the research does not show that at all.

In fact, even by using the technique that gives married people a great big unfair advantage, the results were a lot less definitive than the authors expected. When they looked separately at three age groups, they found that romantic relationship status didn’t matter among the adults younger than 30. People who were living with a romantic partner (and often married), people who had a partner but were not living with that partner, and people who were single (with no romantic partner) all experienced about the same levels of loneliness. Among those older than 65, the singles were a bit lonelier, but the differences were small. Only among the middle-aged group (ages 30-65) were the people living with romantic partners noticeably less lonely than the single people.

The article could leave readers with the impression that those people were less lonely because they were married (or cohabiting). An alternative possibility is that the married group looks less lonely because so many of the people who were lonely in their marriages got divorced (and then the authors put them in with the lifelong single people). The article doesn’t discuss the fact that the single group also includes people who are widowed, and are probably lonely because they miss their spouse. The implication seems to be that being single means you’re lonely, and if you’re married, you’re not lonely.

I want you to think smarter than that.

When the authors state in their article abstract that the “late-life increase in loneliness could be explained by…higher proportion of singles in this age group,” the implication seems to be that single means lonely. That might lead you to think, “Oh those poor old people, they are lonely because they are single.” But maybe they are lonely because so many of them are widowed. Maybe they spent so many years of their lives married that they don’t know how to lead a full, rich, socially connected life as a single person. And maybe lifelong single people do know how to do that.

Actually, there’s no need to qualify that last statement with a “maybe.” We already know, from lots of research, that lifelong single people have more friends than married people, and do more to maintain their ties with friends, siblings, parents, and neighbors. It is when people get married that they turn inward and pay less attention to the other people in their lives.

Clinging to Ideology, Not Facts

  • The arguments in the article seem to be rooted in an ideology of marriage, which maintains that just about everyone wants to marry and that people who get married are better off physically, psychologically, and interpersonally than they were when they were single. I believe this because of the way the authors talk about single people and partnered people. For example:
  • When discussing loneliness in older people, they say that “the absence of a significant attachment figure (spouse, partner)” is important. Do you see what’s wrong with that? This suggests that only a spouse or romantic partner counts as a significant attachment figure. No matter how close you may be to a lifelong friend, a sibling, or anyone else; and no matter if your relationship with another person meets all the criteria for an attachment relationship, your attachment figure is not considered a significant one if that person is not a spouse or romantic partner.
  • The authors say that “the formation of an intimate relationship and partnership in young adults is a developmental accomplishment.” It is, if that’s what you want.  But not everyone wants that. There are young adults (and adults of every age) who are uninterested in that goal. In this article, marriage is portrayed as an accomplishment. That’s an ideological assumption, but it is stated more like a fact — and this is in a scientific publication.

When the authors find, to their surprise, that romantic relationship status has nothing to do with loneliness among adults younger than the age of 30, they try to explain it this way: “[Y]ounger people can compensate for the absence of a romantic partner through a larger social network in both private and professional life.” The key word is “compensate.” It reveals the assumption that romantic relationships matter more than any other relationships, to all people, and therefore if adults do not have such a relationship, they need to compensate for that somehow.

The compensation assumption is especially remarkable in light of the authors’ own findings. Relationship status did not matter as much as they thought it would. Results were not consistent across the three age groups, and they did not mean what the authors said they did. But another factor matters, in predictable ways, and in consistent ways across the three age groups: having friends.

What’s more, there was no undermining the importance of friendship, no matter how the authors analyzed the data. People with more friends were less lonely. The results were that simple. But nowhere do we learn anything about how people need to compensate for not having friends.

Bella DePaulo Ph.D.   Living Single   Sep 26, 2016