Can loneliness really damage your health?
A recent paper in the US journal Public Library of Science: Medicine highlighted how instances of loneliness can increase mortality. But what does it actually mean to be lonely? According to the mental health charity Mind, loneliness is characterised by an unbearably deep sense of separateness.
The organisation's website suggests that people's ability to balance isolation versus social interaction evolves through their lives. "There are bound to be times in our lives when this process of growing up, of becoming separate selves, feels difficult," reads Mind's official advice. "[These are times] when we feel anxious, abandoned, unloved, insecure."
Being alone is not always a bad thing: solitude has been very helpful to many well-known writers, philosophers and composers. Some creative interests developed over a lifetime – painting or sculpture, say – can be an important part of stability and contentment.
How can being alone affect your health?
There is a difference between being alone and feeling lonely. Many people spend time away from other people through choice, whereas loneliness often relates to a lack of support and acceptance within a social context. Removal of social support is almost always to the detriment of our mental and physical health.
It has been shown that loneliness makes it harder to regulate behaviour, rendering people more likely to drink excessive quantities of alcohol, have unhealthier diets, or take less exercise. There is also evidence that loneliness adversely affects the immune and cardiovascular systems, while psychiatric research has demon-strated links to stress and depression.
Here are six ways to feel less lonely.
Nothing attracts people more than positive and optimistic energy. People will be drawn to you and connect on a deeper level when you learn to like yourself first.
Family, travel, career, environment or spirituality – decide what is most important to you and spend more time in this area.
Do things you enjoy. Whether its pottery, dancing or a team sport – you will meet others who share similar interests and values.
Its psychology 101 – people love to talk about themselves more than anything else. So show a genuine interest in other people and you will naturally make more friends.
They aren't called 'man's best friend' for nothing. A dog or a cat not only provides unconditional love and companionship, but can even lower blood pressure and stress levels. A lovable pooch is also the perfect excuse to join a dog-walking club.
Volunteering for an organisation you feel passionately about is not only a great way to make friends but also fulfils the basic human need to feel wanted and purposeful.