More than 42 million Americans identify as lonely. Of course, we’re all lonely from time to time. And a few days of loneliness aren’t necessarily problematic, but when loneliness becomes a lifestyle – when those days become weeks, months, or even years – that’s when it becomes toxic.
And the cold truth is that chronic loneliness can be lethal. In fact, it can be more dangerous to your health than obesity because it can lead to increased levels of stress, as well as increase the risks of heart attack, stroke, dementia, and premature death. Staying social, on the other hand, reduces loneliness and depression and can potentially reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems, Alzheimer’s disease, and even some cancers.
Increased social contact can even increase the likelihood that disease will be detected early and that treatment regimens will be completed because the people around you notice changes and care about your well-being. They ask about things like health and medical care, which decreases the likelihood that they’ll be neglected.
Feelings of loneliness are varied and can be broken down into a few categories that can help you identify what aspect of your life is feeding your loneliness.
Emotional Loneliness. Caused by a lack of intimate relationships.
Social Loneliness. A lack of satisfying contact with your community – family, friends, neighbors, etc.
Collective Loneliness. Not feeling valued.
Existential loneliness. Lacking meaning or purpose in life.
When we’re young, that much-needed socialization is a natural part of life. Family. Friends. School. Playdates. Sports. Clubs. Work. It’s all built-in from birth to retirement. But what happens after retirement when that socialization doesn’t naturally occur as often? And how do we make that socialization count while we have the opportunity?
The answer is simple: Get involved! Volunteer. Join a club. Help out at church. Basically, get out and do what interests you. It will give purpose to your life. That purpose will help you feel more valued. And you’ll be actively involved in a community, which will naturally create satisfying interaction and meaningful relationships.
Bonus if that involvement includes something that challenges you! Feeling challenged tends to leave people feeling invigorated. It lights up the brain, keeps you learning, and gives you more reason to reach out to others for assistance as you learn. In short, it checks all the boxes!
People need people. That is a fact of life that never changes from the time we are born until the day we die. No matter how introverted you might be or how much you fight it, at the end of the day, the human connections we forge are what make life worth living.