There was a time when your phone would ring off the hook. You always had big social plans with parties to go to and people to see. Now, those happy smiling faces that used to follow you wherever you go are strangers on the street who all seem happier and more connected than you. As you stare at the blank four walls in your apartment, you wonder how and when things shifted and why on earth is it happening to you?
Things change, people get older, friends drift apart or move away, but just when it feels like you’re the only single one standing, a new study comes out which indicates that you’re not alone. In fact, social isolation, aka loneliness, is more prevalent than it was a generation ago. John T Cacioppo, a neuroscientist who has been studying human isolation and connection for three decades, recently revealed that 20% of the population feels unhappily isolated at any given time despite all the friends and fans they may have amassed on Facebook and other social networking sites.
Loneliness, according to Cacioppo, at the individual level is one’s perception of social isolation and not the actuality of being alone. That’s why for many singles it seems like everyone is in love, married or moving on, even when the numbers prove otherwise.
Perceived loneliness is actually a physiological response or change agent, which helps humans avoid the dangers of chronic isolation. The good news about these latest findings is that every individual has the power to change the way they see things. As with anything else, dealing with loneliness is a fine balancing act which involves following these steps:
Learn How to Recognize the Signals: Though loneliness is often confused with sadness, depression, fear and yes, even boredom, each one of these conditions has slightly different symptoms. By analyzing the signs and understanding the triggers, frequency and timing patterns that affect you personally, you will be better prepared to tackle lonely emotions or avoid them altogether.
Make Little Lifestyle Changes: Dinner alone in front of the TV every weeknight can be a recipe for disaster. Dining out or a movie at a theater may be terrifying at first, but immersing yourself in these types of social milieus will help break the isolation pattern. Start by making small substitutions and incorporating them into your daily routine. You’ll be surprised at what a difference these changes can make.
Give Yourself a Reality Check: You may consider the Internet your best ally, but unless you spend real time with those friends you keep in the virtual world, the Internet can actually wreak havoc on your social life. Rather than zoning out in front of the computer, try checking into something a little more real, even it means heading to a Starbucks for the afternoon.
Get into the Zone: We all know that exercise does a body good, but it can also help fill other emotional voids. Cardio vascular exercise has a mind altering effect which does more than just make a person look better. Exercise will also help you feel better about yourself. Plus, by signing up for a group class or activity like spinning, yoga or total body conditioning, you will likely feel a sense of belonging that you may be craving.
Consider Quality over Quantity: Remember folks, we’re not in high school anymore, so don’t make this a popularity contest. One good friend can change your life and a few people you can talk to and trust is all you need to counteract loneliness.
Let Go of the Guilt: There is a difference between being alone and feeling lonely. As humans we all need alone time, so give yourself the space you need, when you need it, without putting undue social pressure on yourself.
Loneliness does not discriminate – at some point or another it hits everyone. So even if you do feel lonely, be sure to remember you are not alone.