What is Loneliness?
Definitions from Dr. Bell Washington, child and adolescent psychiatrist working with Centurion and also in private practice in North Carolina and Dr. Clark, adult outpatient psychiatrist at Prisma Health in Greenville, South Carolina, and associate clinical professor at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine-Greenville.
“Loneliness is essentially the feeling of being uncomfortable or in distress when someone feels that there is a gap between the connection they would like and the connection they actually have … you can be in a crowd full of people, you can know all of them, and you can still feel lonely.” (Washington)
“So, you might have a lot of superficial social connections, but what you really want is something deeper—someone to know you on the inside … It’s really based on perception of the difference between the relationship you’d like and the relationship that you have with others.” (Washington)
Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “found 63% of young adults also suffer significant symptoms of anxiety or depression,” says Dr. Washington. “That means we have a generation of young people hungry for deeper connection who often do not have the skills or opportunities to achieve it.”
“One’s 20s are filled with countless social expectations including separating from one’s nuclear family, finding a partner, developing a career and finding a ‘tribe,’ for many this time is complicated by unrealistic social media lives which are often unattainable. That only amplifies the loneliness that young adults feel.”
Social isolation can play a role
“An individual experiencing loneliness will often describe feeling alone. This is distinct from social isolation where there is a paucity of social connectedness,” said Dr. Clark. “Social isolation can be a sequela of loneliness, but there are plenty of individuals who experience loneliness and are still socially connected.”
Social media affects loneliness
“We get these dopamine surges when someone likes our status,” Clark says, referring to a social media posting. Many, conversely, feel “sad or upset when they do not receive a certain number of likes or have over 1 million followers on their social media accounts.
“And if you’re having an identity crisis—and if you’re letting social media dictate who you are—that can create some loneliness,” he added. “We must be mindful of the psychiatric sequelae of loneliness. These include depression and anxiety.”
See full article: “What doctors wish patients knew about loneliness and health.” by Sara Berg, MS AMA-ASSN, 9 September 2022.
10 Things You Can Do If You’re Lonely from Mental Health America (mhanational.org)
1. Help others. Volunteering is a great way to form meaningful connections with others and make new friends. It is also a natural way to add some purpose to your life – something a lot of us struggle with when feeling lonely. What are some causes that you’re passionate about? Does your place of worship have volunteer activities? Is there a service club through your school?
2. Reconnect with old friends. Have you lost touch with a good friend from elementary school? Or maybe a friend from summer camp? See if you can reconnect! Especially if you’re at a new school this year – just because you don’t see someone every day doesn’t mean they can’t be a valuable friend.
3. Try something new. Is there something you’ve always wanted to try, but never have? Now is the perfect time! If you’re interested in acting, try auditioning for a school play or a local theater group. Love sports? Join a new team, or maybe there’s a weekend clinic you can sign up for. There are tons of potential new hobbies out there!
4. Figure out if something is missing in your life. There are a lot of different ways to feel lonely. Maybe you have a great group of friends, but wish you had one best friend to go to for everything. Or maybe you have one amazing friend, but miss being part of a group. Knowing what’s missing won’t magically make it appear, but it will make the overwhelming feeling of loneliness seem a bit more manageable and give you something to work toward.
5. Make time for extended family. If you have cousins or other relatives around your age that are within a reasonable distance, reach out and try to get together.
6. Watch something that makes you laugh. Put on your favorite funny show or movie—immersing yourself in a world with familiar characters can make you feel less alone.
7. Turn activities you do alone into group activities. Into gaming? Invite someone over to play with you in person. Do you like to draw? Ask your parents to help you ¬find an art class. Going to a baseball game with your family? See if they can get an extra ticket so you can invite a friend.
8. Spend time with animals. Hanging out with pets, especially cats and dogs, is a great way to feel less lonely. They will love you unconditionally and will provide you with all the snuggles you need! If you don’t have pets of your own, see if your neighbors or relatives would be willing to let you hang out with theirs.
9. Try an app. Lyf is an app that helps you reach out to others to chat about things. Q Chat has support groups for LGBTQ youth. NotOK is an app that helps you reach out to contacts that you select to let them know that you are struggling. 7 Cups has trained listeners to provide you with emotional support.