The estimated reading time for this post is 6 Minutes

Attention Grabber: Everyone feels lonely from time to time when we have no one to sit next to at lunch, when we move to a new city, or when nobody has time for us at the weekend. However, over the last few decades, this occasional feeling has become chronic for millions.

Introductory Remarks: In the UK, 60% of 18 to 34-year-olds say they often feel lonely. In the US, 46% of the entire population feels lonely regularly. We are living in the most connected time in human history, and yet a large number of us feel isolated. Loneliness can affect everybody, money, fame, power, beauty, social skills, and great personality, nothing can protect us from loneliness because it’s part of our biology.

Reveal Topic: Today I’d like to talk about loneliness.

Preview: I will talk about what is loneliness, how loneliness kills, and also what can we do if we’re facing loneliness.

Transition: Firstly, what is loneliness?

What is loneliness?

Loneliness is a bodily function, like hunger. Hunger makes us pay attention to our physical needs. Loneliness makes us pay attention to our social needs. Our body cares about our social needs because millions of years ago, it was a great indicator of how likely we would survive. Natural selection awarded our ancestors for collaborating and forming connections with each other. Our brains grew and became more and more fine-tuned to recognize what others thought and felt to form and sustain social bonds.

Being social has become part of our biology. Getting enough calories, staying safe and warm, or caring for offspring is practically impossible alone. Being together meant survival, and being alone meant death, so we needed to get along with others. For our ancestors, the most dangerous threat to survival was not being eaten by predators, but not getting the social vibe of your group and being excluded.

To avoid that, our bodies came up with social pains. Pain of this kind is an evolutionary adaptation to rejection, a sort of early warning system to make sure we stop behavior that will isolate us, our ancestors who experienced rejection as more painful will most likely change their behavior to stay in the tribe, while those who didn’t are kicked out and most likely died. That’s why rejections hurt, and why loneliness is so painful.

Transition: Next, I’ll share with you how loneliness kills, both physically and mentally

How loneliness kills?

A. Physically

Studies have shown that the stress that comes from chronic loneliness is among the unhealthiest things we can experience as humans.

Loneliness makes us sit far away from others in class, not answer phone calls from friends, and decline invitations until the invitations stop.

It makes us age faster, it makes cancer deadlier, Alzheimer’s advance faster and our immune systems weaker.

Loneliness is twice as deadly as obesity and as deadly as smoking a pack of cigarettes daily. The most dangerous thing about loneliness is that once it becomes chronic, it could become self-sustaining.

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B. Mentally

When loneliness becomes chronic, our brain goes into self-defending mode. It starts to see danger everywhere.

Some studies also found that when we’re lonely, our brain is much more receptive to social signals and it gets worse in interpreting them correctly. We pay more attention to others but we understand them less.

Loneliness makes us assume the worst about others’ intentions toward us. Because of this, we can be more self-centered to protect ourselves. This makes us cold, unfriendly, and more socially awkward than we are.

Everyone has a story about ourselves, and if our story becomes the people who exclude you, others pick up on that, and so the outside world will be how you feel about it.

Transition: Last but not least, I’d like to talk about what can we do about loneliness.

What can we do about loneliness?

A. Mentally

If loneliness has become a strong presence in our lives, the first thing we can do is recognize the vicious cycle we’re trapped in. It usually goes like this, an initial feeling of isolation makes us focus selectively on negative interactions with others. This makes our thoughts on ourselves and others more negative.

This will change our behavior, we’ll begin to avoid interaction, which leads to more feelings of isolation. This cycle becomes more severe and harder to escape each time.

The first thing we could do to escape it is to accept loneliness as a completely normal feeling and nothing to be ashamed of. Everyone feels lonely at some point in their life, it’s a universal human experience. We can’t ignore a feeling until it goes away magically, but we can accept that we feel it and get rid of its cause.

We can self-examine what we focus our attention on, and check if we are selectively focused on negative things. Was this interaction with a friend negative? Or is it really neutral or even positive? What was the actual content of the interaction? What did the other person say? Did they say something bad? Or did we add extra meaning to their words?

B. Physically

Secondly, you can change your behavior. Try this, reach out to someone today, regardless if you’re feeling lonely or if you want to make someone else’s day better, maybe write to an old friend, call a family member who has become strange, invite a colleague for coffee, or go to somewhere you’re usually too afraid or too lazy to go to, like joining a society in your school or a sports club.

Everybody is different so you know what’s a good fit for you. Maybe nothing will come of it but that’s okay, the goal is just to open up a bit to exercise your connection muscles so they can grow stronger over time.

Every person and situation is unique and different, if you feel that you might not be able to solve your situation by yourself, please reach out and try to get professional help.

Summary of main points: To summarize, loneliness is something that deserves more attention as it is part of our biology. Loneliness is deadly to us both physically and mentally. However, there are treatments for loneliness and we should all be brave enough to battle it.

Concluding Remarks: We humans have built an amazing world, but we are still unable to satisfy our biological need for connection. Most animals get what they need from their physical surroundings, we get what we need from each other, and we need to build our world based on that. Thank you.

Reference:

    1. https://books.google.com.my/books?id=w8pWZ2AGI4MC&printsec=frontcover&dq=loneliness+john+t+cacioppo&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiRo_CrnubgAhVDv48KHRLDBsUQ6AEIKjAA#v=onepage&q=loneliness%20john%20t%20cacioppo&f=false
    2. Winch G, 2012, Emotional First Aid, reprint edn, Plume

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