What is loneliness? We may not talk about it those terms; saying those words, "I'm lonely," may not be something that we want to express. We may instead speak of things such as boredom, lack of connection, or even shame. We may not know any of our neighbours, or have anyone we feel we can depend on. We can even be surrounded by people, yet still feel profoundly alone.
As Part Two of our series on Emotional Wellness, psychotherapist Stephen Doucet Campbell explored social isolation, its effects, and how we can help those, including ourselves, navigate periods of loneliness.
Stephen highlighted social isolation in recent media reports. For example, the Boston Globe ran the headline, "The Biggest Threat Facing Middle-Aged Men Isn’t Obesity or Smoking, It’s Loneliness.” Also, as has been widely reported, the UK now has a national Ministry of Loneliness to address the crisis there, which is particularly acute among young adults. Closer to home, in Ontario the Alliance For Healthier Communites is running pilots with volunteers in Social Prescribing (intentional social interaction prescribed by a health practitioner).
Researchers have found that loneliness lights up the same parts of the brain as does pain, and is tied to many other issues such as substance abuse. Conversely, people with good social connection report increased physical, spiritual, and mental health, as well as better recovery from serious illness, and lower rates of dementia. Our brains are healed by any kind of positive interaction with others.
So, how we can decrease loneliness in our own lives and in the lives of those around us?
First, develop an outward mindset, enabling you to build empathy and trust in various social interactions. Look right in front of you, for opportunities for face-to-face interactions. Develop an attitude of P.A.C.E. - "Playful, Accepting, Curious, Empathetic." Seek to build connection with just one or two people. Stop blaming yourself. Learn to share about yourself, even while focussing on the interests and strengths of others. Find out what others need; become a volunteer to meet needs. Explore community groups, such as churches. Finally, use technology wisely to foster relationships - don't let it stop you from getting out of the house.
Stephen painted an inspiring picture of hope, as we struggle with loneliness and look for ways to help others.