Whether it’s a move to a new city or school, a breakup or a random rough patch, we all get lonely from time to time. This is pretty normal, but too much loneliness can be taxing on our mental and physical health. In fact, a recent study found that feelings of loneliness increase mortality risk by 26 percent.
That’s a pretty startling statistic, so it’s important to get your loneliness facts down and take action if you’re feeling lonely. Here’s what you should know:
1. You binge-watch in record time.
Did you rip through all ten seasons of “Friends” when it hit Netflix? You might not feel lonely, but a study from the University of Texas found that people who are more lonely and depressed are more likely to binge watch. We’re not trying to take life’s simple pleasures away from you, just make sure you’re getting enough people time in.
2. You know how you’re supposed to behave in a social situation, you just have trouble doing it.
Through a series of four experiments, Franklin & Marshall College professor Megan L. Knowles found that lonely people may actually have a better understanding of social skills than non-lonely people, but they choke under pressure when it comes time to apply them to real-world situations. So if you have a tough time making conversation in social situations, remind yourself that you’re probably a lot better at it than you think.
3. Being alone doesn’t feel like downtime — it feels lonely.
Feeling lonely is a whole lot different than carving out a little “me” time. Spending time alone by choice actually has a lot of health benefits.
A Scientific American article states:
Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life.
Loneliness, on the other hand, feels a bit different. If you’re having trouble sleeping, feeling anxious or depressed or turning to social media and TV when you’re alone, you’re probably really lonely.
4. You’re a Facebook power user.
A University of Michigan study found that we’re more likely to use Facebook when we’re feeling lonely. Although Facebook doesn’t necessarily make us feel lonelier, watching people’s lives go by on our newsfeeds can lead to feelings of unhappiness. So instead of logging into Facebook next time you’re feeling lonely, try face-to-face interaction and/or make a phone call to someone you love.
How to fix it:
The first step is acknowledging that you’re lonely.
Like all things, changing your loneliness starts by admitting what you’re feeling.
“After identifying it, you want to think about in what ways you’re feeling lonely or out of place,” clinical psychologist Lauren Kachorek told HerCampus of feeling lonely in college. “The person has to come to understand more about what [the loneliness] means to them and why and how they feel that way. Exploring more about it is actually the best way to make the feeling go away.”
Joining a club or group can help.
Whether it’s a book club or sports team, get involved in groups that revolve around your interests. That way, you’ll go into the situation knowing you have something in common with the people you’re interacting with.
“If you join a group where the activity is meaningful for you, and you enjoy it, chances are it will bring out the best in you,” Toronto-based psychotherapist Lesli Musicar told Best Health. “And if you feel good while you’re engaged in that activity, it will help you feel more connected to the people around you because you have this one thing in common.”
But if that doesn’t sound appealing, try taking care of someone else.
Just as acts of kindness can help with social anxiety, being kind to or caring for others can ease loneliness — even if that “other” is a pet. “Raising children, teaching, caring for animals… helps to alleviate loneliness,” Happiness Project author Gretchen Rubin wrote on her blog.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
One big way to break the cycle of loneliness is seeking professional help. In one study on loneliness, University of Chicago psychologist John Cacioppo and colleagues concluded that individual therapy was probably the most effective way to change thought patterns and beliefs surrounding loneliness, like shame and low self=esteem.
“As a first step, there is a need for increased public awareness — and awareness among healthcare providers — that loneliness is a condition that, like chronic pain, can become an affliction for almost anyone,” the study authors wrote.
Loneliness is serious. Luckily, there’s a lot you can do to make a change — so take action sooner rather than later.