Loneliness

“Loneliness is proof that your innate search for connection is intact.” – Martha Beck

With 1 in 4 Australian adults describing feeling lonely more than half the time, loneliness is an ever-growing presence in modern lives. It is characterised by feelings of disconnectedness or isolation brought about by a lack of personal relationships, often both in quantity and quality. It is therefore common to feel lonely even when surrounded by others. From a physical standpoint, loneliness can predict a range of physical health impacts including poor sleep, heart disease, Type II diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. 

Loneliness is very common across our nation, however some groups are more likely to be affected, such as:

  • Senior citizens from 65+;
  • Single, separated and / or divorced individuals;
  • Younger adults aged 16 – 25 years;
  • Recent migrants or individuals with low English language skills;
  • Individuals experiencing disabilities or severe illness.

Loneliness can both influenceand be influenced byyour mental health. Strong social ties act as a buffer from life’s stressors and contribute to a sense of belonging and wellbeing. The absence of these social ties can lead to pervasive low mood, as well as leaving individuals less supported and more vulnerable to social threats and negative life events. These factors can predispose them to worsening mental health over time. Equally, symptoms of poor mental health such as low mood, reduced energy, and increased negative thoughts, can cause an individual to withdraw from social circles. This can create a feedback loop where loneliness and social isolation perpetuate a cycle of declining mental health.

Some strategies to target loneliness may include the following:

  1. Practice self-compassion. Self-compassion involves adopting a gentle and empathetic attitude towards yourself in the face of challenges, in the same way that you may respond to a close friend or family member. Using self-compassion can help reduce negative thoughts, rumination, and self-judgement, all of which can enhance feelings of loneliness. 
  2. Devote time to your current social networks, ideally face-to-face. However, in scenarios where this may not always be possible, even regular online contact with others has been found to reduce loneliness when conducted in a meaningful way (for example, phone calls, email, or quality, in-depth texting, as opposed to more superficial communications). 
  3. Explore group-based activities in your area. Group based activities, from book clubs to sporting teams, have been consistently found to promote a sense of social connection and reduce feelings of loneliness, and provide the opportunity to develop new relationships and communities.
  4. Seek professional support. While it can be easy to dismiss, loneliness can present a huge challenge, especially in the long term. Individuals struggling with loneliness can seek support from professionals such as psychologists, mental illness-trained GPs and social workers, to help identify and work with barriers to social connectedness and create opportunities to increase social inclusion and belonging in day-to-day life.

Written by Cause Effect Psychology

References

  • Akin, A. (2010). Self-compassion and loneliness. International Journal of Educational Sciences, 2(3), 702 – 718 
  • Australian Psychological Society & Swinburne University of Technology. (2018). Australian Loneliness Report, accessed https://psychweek.org.au/wp/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Psychology-Week-2018-Australian-Loneliness-Report.pdf, 01/08/2019 
  • Cacioppo, S., Grippo, A., London, S., Goossens, L., & Cacioppo, J. (2015). Loneliness: Clinical import and interventions. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10(2), 238 – 249 
  • Hawkley, L. & Cacioppo, J. (2010). Loneliness Matters: A Theoretical and Empirical Review of Consequences and Mechanisms. Annals of Behavioural Medicine, 40(2), 218–227
  • Masi, C., Chen, H., Hawkley, L. & Cacioppo, J. (2011). A meta-analysis of interventions to reduce loneliness. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 15(3), 219 – 266
  • Segrin, C., & Domschke, T. (2011). Social support, loneliness, recuperative processes, and their direct and indirect effects on health. Health Communication, 26(3), 221 – 232

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