Loneliness not only feels awful, it can also lead to clinical depression, poor sleep, and premature death. Humans are a social species. Without a social support system, we become a source of chronic stress for our bodies, and, according to research, loneliness may be worse for our health than smoking, air pollution, and obesity.
Chronic loneliness has been linked with an increased risk of developing or dying from everything from heart disease to dementia. A recent review of 148 studies concluded that being lonely increased a woman’s risk of dying by 49 per cent and by 50 per cent for men. Research has also shown that socially isolated kids have significantly poorer health 20 years later. For young adults, loneliness and social isolated are major precipitants of suicide.
Loneliness has become such a problem in Britain that Theresa May’s Conservative government appointment a “minister for loneliness” in 2018. Plus, British firefighters have been newly trained to inspect homes for signs of social isolation, and postal workers are being dispatched on door knocking campaigns to check in with elderly residents — all part of the country’s “Campaign to End Loneliness.” Across the country, some 300 “Men’s Sheds” have opened. These communal workshops are aimed at bringing older men together to talk and tinker on anything from bicycles to shelves.
Despite its prevalence, particularly in the industrialized world, people tend not to talk about loneliness. We see loneliness as a sad and shameful condition. To admit to being lonely is almost taboo — “the psychological equivalent to being a loser in life, or a weak person,” John Cacioppo, who spent decades studying loneliness, said in his TED Talk.
For a social species, being on the social perimeters is not only sad, it is dangerous, Cacioppo said. And denying loneliness, he told his audience, makes no more sense than denying thirst or hunger.
Research conducted for more than a decade at the University of Chicago showed that lonely people are more irritable, more aggressive, more depressed, more sleep-deprived, more self-centered and more likely to see unfamiliar people in a bad light. They become hypervigilant to scorn and tend to think people are treating them with hostility. And the more distrustful and lonelier you become, the more you pull away from others, which causes you to feel even more lonely — a vicious, endless cycle.
Create a practice of social bonding!
Work is a great place to start. Social bonding starts with “socializing” and includes sharing a common experience — it could be a brief story, a quick laugh, or something more meaningful like meeting a common goal or overcoming a common challenge. With any team activity — whether it’s a team sport, event planning, or a fundraising project — communication, collaborating, creating, and contributing all facilitate our social bonds.
Engaging in social activities may seem like “one more thing” to add to our plate. But, it is the only anecdote to our modern lifestyle risk for loneliness and its major impact on our health, happiness, and productivity.
An award-winning medical doctor, researcher, and expert on the neuroscience of innovation, leadership, and motivation, Dr. Shimi Kang provides science-based solutions for health, happiness, and achievement in the workplace, classroom, and at home.
With almost 20 years of clinical experience and extensive research in the science that lies behind optimizing human intelligence, Shimi provides practical tools to cultivate the key 21st century skills of resilience, connection, creativity, and more.
Contact us to learn more about Shimi and what she can bring to your next event.