Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Loneliness: Too much Facebook and Not Enough Face Time?

John Cacioppo, who has studied loneliness, says: “People who need social connections should think about being alone in the same way a person with high blood pressure thinks about salt.”

Loneliness is an emotional state in which a person feels an intense sense of emptiness and isolation (so says Wiktionary and I’d have to agree). It’s not a disorder but it is associated with health problems like high blood pressure and diabetes. It’s not introversion, the process of being focused on one’s own interest, thoughts and feelings. It’s not shyness, the quality of being timid or shy in social interactions. It’s not the same as depression, a period of intense unhappiness which may be associated with suicidal thinking.

Getting back to Cacioppo’s quote, what this means is that if you’re introverted and like being self-focused, or shy and are afraid of being social, these are not the same as lonely. If you’re lonely, you don’t really enjoy all the self-focused time you have. You’re not afraid of talking to people, you just don’t seem to have the opportunities, and you’re not happy about it, but also not depressed because of it.

There are a number of ways to combat loneliness, depending on your need for social stimulation (introverts need less), shyness (you may need special techniques) and personal situation. You might consider:

Face time. Facebook, email and phone are great ways to stay in touch. But being with someone enables a different level of communication and intimacy. Even if you’re busy, try to make the time for an actual sit down, make it a coffee if you don’t have the time or inclination for an entire meal.

Confidants. A lot of people have friends or acquaintances with whom they do not share intimacies. Consider your group of peeps. Are there one or two people you might consider possible confidants? Try it without worrying about whether they have the time or interest. Just see what happens. And please, don’t worry about burdening people with your problems. Problems, conflicts and issues are exactly what people love to talk about.

Get out. Have coffee out and talk to the person at the next table. Join clubs, churches or hiking/biking/running groups. Joining a group gets you out, doing something and meeting people with at least one interest in common. Talk to people you meet in groups or even at the supermarket.

Volunteer. Staying connected with your community through volunteer work gives meaning as well as opportunity to interact socially. It’s a good way to meet people, with the added benefit of feeling good by helping others.

Keep in touch. If you work from home, or retirement isolates you, pay special attention to increasing your level of social contact . Since you don’t naturally interact with people daily at a job, find ways of keeping in touch when you retire and building this into your early retirement days. Similarly, working at home means you have to make a real effort to maintain enough contact with people.

Don’t be an Eleanor Rigby...connect with people.


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