By Tim Arends
According to a New York City psychologist, “Loneliness is a leading social problem of our times. And when people make no attempt to overcome it, the consequences are often stagnation, sitting in front of TV doing nothing, anxiety and depression.”
In fact, researchers in the United States, Finland and Sweden ranked loneliness right up there with smoking, high blood pressure and obesity as a health risk factor.
Loneliness a health risk factor? Yes, the researchers found that people who live isolated lives with few strong friendships are twice as likely to die prematurely as those who have close friends and a strong social network.
That is perhaps just the first of a number of surprises associated with the subject of loneliness. Another surprise is, exactly, who is lonely? Senior citizens? Widows or widowers? The poor? Divorcees living alone? In some cases, yes to all of these. But, according to writer Dan Carlinski, high school and college students are often the loneliest of all! He cited research done at the University of Nebraska.
The reasons for this are many. Young people often tend to be idealistic, perhaps even a bit naive. Without a long history of life experiences, they often expect deep and lasting relationships to come easily. When it doesn’t quite happen that way, the gap between imagination and reality often leaves them with an empty feeling.
Older people, on the other hand, have a lifetime of experience and are often more realistic. They know that ideal relationships don’t come easily, and “perfect” relationships are rare. Since they have more realistic expectations, they are not as prone to disappointment and disillusionment as are young people.
Young people also often tend to look around at others their age and perceive them as being happier and more popular than they actually are. They are susceptible to a societal norm that equates happiness with popularity and being surrounded by friends. Television shows–From dramas to sitcoms–show people constantly with friends and neighbors. We are taught that to be alone is to somehow be different or a failure.
In addition, according to professor of sociology Dr. Robert Weiss, young people have difficulty making the transition from youth to adulthood. Growing up, Young people are surrounded by family members. Later, they have to find in friends the emotional satisfaction that they once found in family, and they often find that the substitutes for companionship are not always as satisfying.
What is even more depressing is that young people often think that they’re the only ones who feel this way. To be lonely is bad enough, but to look around and think that everyone else is popular and fulfilled makes matters that much worse.
One of the keys to overcoming loneliness is to stop comparing yourself to other people. Even the most outgoing and popular appearing people may feel lonely inside. It is even possible to feel lonely when at a party or surrounded by others, even if one appears to be “Whooping it up.”
Perhaps this is the reason why alcohol is so popular at parties and other events. If somebody really feels popular, outgoing, and energized, would they really need alcohol to “Fire them up?” The reliance on booze and getting drunk can be one of the most common warning signs that someone is trying to cover up loneliness or a feeling of emptiness. After all, if one were so self confident, why would they need the alcohol?
You can feel sure that there others around you who feel the same as you do. To beat loneliness when you are in a group, push aside any shyness and look around for someone who looks lonelier than you. Extend a hand and introduce yourself to someone who looks lost. If you get a cold fish response, so what? It is the other person who has a problem, not you.
The key to beating loneliness is taking action in getting rid of false beliefs. It takes effort, but before long you will have broken out of your old thought patterns and be well on your way to beating loneliness.