All of us have felt lonely at one point or another. As the most intelligent species on the planet that also happens to be extremely social, it’s only human that we experience loneliness at various points in our lives when we’re faced with unexpected or unwanted circumstances.
Loneliness, however, remains somewhat misunderstood among many of us—perhaps because we don’t talk about it very often. Here are just a few common myths about loneliness that really should be talked about.
Myth #1: Too much time alone time leads to loneliness.
It’s very easy to assume that loneliness and aloneness are the same thing, but these two states are actually very different. Loneliness is a state in which a person feels emotionally disconnected from others, regardless of how many people they’re physically surrounded by on a daily basis. Although spending time alone can certainly lead to feeling lonely, this isn’t always the case. In fact, a study on happiness showed that people with higher levels of intelligence tend to enjoy spending more of their time alone as opposed to with people, proving that loneliness is indeed much more a state of mind than it is a representation of physical human presence.
Myth #2: Older adults are lonelier than younger adults.
You’d think that older adults who are empty nesters, retirees and widows might be the loneliest group of all, but research suggests that older adults aren’t as lonely as we all might think. In one study, only the very old (age 80 and over) reported feeling lonely often while the youngest age group (between the ages of 15 and 24) also reported high levels of loneliness. And in a national survey from the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), more younger adults reported feeling lonely than older adults (43 percent of those ages 45 to 49 compared to just 25 percent of those ages 70 and up).
Myth #3: Loneliness only affects us only on a mental/emotional level.
Loneliness may be a state of mind, but the mind is deeply and intricately connected to the physical body. In the same national survey mentioned in the second point above, loneliness was significantly linked to poor health. Those who considered their health to be excellent were only 25 percent more likely to be lonely compared to 55 percent of those who rated their health to be poor.
Myth #4: Use of technology is making us lonelier.
This myth is one that is only half true, but doesn’t tell the whole story. For instance, one study has shown that increased social media use is linked to increased feelings of social isolation among younger adults. Going back to the survey conducted by the AARP, however, there was no difference in frequency of email use among participants who reported being lonely versus participants who reported not being lonely. Interestingly, 13 percent of lonely participants said they felt less socially connected compared to 6 percent of non-lonely participants now that they use the internet to communicate, suggesting that frequent technology use itself is not a cause of loneliness, but an associated behavior of people who may already be lonely.
Myth #5: There are bigger public health issues than loneliness.
Loneliness is no small problem we’re facing in society. According to recent research presented by the American Psychological Association, loneliness might be a bigger public health problem than the obesity epidemic, with its impact continuing to grow over time if nothing is done about it. In two meta-analyses involving more than 200 studies, researchers found significant evidence that loneliness increases the risk of premature death by a magnitude that surpasses that of many leading health indicators.
If you or someone you know is feeling lonely, have a look through these 10 ways to overcome loneliness. It could potentially be life-saving.