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Humans are social creatures by nature. While we each have varying needs of human interaction, everyone needs it. During our early years, we’re surrounded by our family at home and our classmates during the day on a daily basis. But as we grow older, we become more isolated.

Unlike our school days, when social interaction was built right in, we encounter less opportunities to be social as we age. If you work from home, or live alone, you’re spending more time from other people than ever before. Feelings of loneliness and sadness can start to seep in. There’s real danger to your health if you feel lonely for extended periods of time.

Dangers of Loneliness

At some point in time, everyone suffers from the feeling of loneliness. About 60 million Americans suffer from loneliness each year. But when loneliness becomes a chronic feeling, that’s when it becomes a real problem. A problem as serious as obesity.

Social neuroscientist John Cacioppo, of the University of Chicago, has said that the effects of social isolation are as real as hunger and thirst. Dr. Richard Lang of the Cleveland Clinic says that people need to attend to loneliness in “the same way they would their diet, exercise, or how much sleep they get.”

Loneliness can impair cognitive performance, affect your immune system, and increase your risk for heart disease. Studies show that the probability of early death increases 45% while the potential for dementia can increase 64% later in life.

In fact, loneliness accelerates cognitive decline by about 20% over the course of 12-years.

It’s clear that chronic loneliness is detrimental to an individual’s health. What can someone do if they fear that they suffer from chronic loneliness?

Solutions to Loneliness

  1. Recognize Your Loneliness – Sometimes people misinterpret their loneliness for being a loser. This negative thought process exacerbates the feelings of loneliness and causes people not to see help. Recognize and accept you are lonely and you can start to find real solutions.
  2. Devise a Plan – Map out a plan to overcome your loneliness. Identify different situations you can put yourself in to be more social. This can be recreational sport leagues, volunteering, or MeetUp groups.
  3. Start Small – If you’re suffering from loneliness and you are having negative feelings about being around others, start small. Don’t start by going out to a big rave. Find different situations, whether it’s with friends, or volunteering, where it’s more intimate and unlikely you’ll get rejected.
  4. Quality Over Quantity – Your goal should be quality interactions, not quantity. More meaningful and quality relationships will help alleviate loneliness rather than a large amount of empty relationships.
  5. Be Positive – If you’re positive, then others around you will be positive. This positive feeling will help you feel optimistic and open to meeting more people.  

Loneliness is a real concern for many Americans. It not only causes psychological damage, but it can also affect your physical health. Don’t let loneliness restrict the quality of your life. Identify whether or not you suffer from chronic loneliness and then map out a plan to help you become less lonely. Consult a doctor if you think it’s necessary to help you get started.

Image Courtesy of Jean Gerber

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