By Tim Arends
According to a New York psychotherapist, “Loneliness is a leading social problem of our times. And when people make no attempt to overcome it, the consequences are often stagnation, doing nothing, anxiety and depression.”
Unfortunately, there are a number of misconceptions floating around about loneliness and how to overcome it.
1. Loneliness is not a real or serious problem.
False. 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.
2. The key to overcoming loneliness is through alcohol.
Wrong! Think of the problems that drunkenness cause our society. Look at the number of parties in which alcohol flows freely and heavily. In many cases, this is a sign that people are trying to drown their own loneliness.
Outsiders often look at frat parties and similar types of events in which booze is a major feature and feel left out of the fun. But quite often alcohol use masks a deep inner feeling of loneliness. After all, if someone felt so self confident and outgoing and popular, why would they need alcohol?
3. Loneliness is a problem confined to the elderly.
Not true. Studies have found that high school and college students are often the loneliest. The reasons for this are many.
Young people have to make the transition from youth to adulthood, and the replacing of companionship from family to outside friends is not always easy. Plus, being thrown into a new situation like college can be a major cause of loneliness. Shyness is often a factor.
Young people also 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.
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.
4. Happiness equates with popularity and being surrounded by friends.
Also false. 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. 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.”
Solitude can be a force for good. No one should be around others all the time. Focus on your solitude and use it to bring you positive benefits.
5. Getting more people into your life is the key to beating loneliness.
Not necessarily, says Danilo Ponce, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Hawaii who interviewed 3000 people over 16 years. His conclusion is that non-lonely people are busy people.
“There’s a general misconception that when loneliness is a problem, you need the company of others. But that’s not necessarily so,” he said. When asked how they avoid loneliness, almost all the people he interviewed said that they “find something to do.”
The real problem with lonely people, he found, is that they’re bored. Quite often they know as many people as non-lonely people, but they don’t keep as active.
So to beat loneliness, get involved in activities you enjoy. Don’t even worry about whether you will meet new people. Push yourself and get started. It will take effort, but it will be worth it.
Tim Arends for over ten years has maintained the Internet Shyness FAQ, now at http://www.shyFAQ.com.
Visitors to his site can obtain a FREE copy of his ebook, How To Remember Peoples Names; The Master Key to Success and Popularity. Tim also offers his complete overcoming shyness system at http://www.shyfacts.com. This article may be republished in any website or newsletter, provided this message is included.