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Loneliness—more than a state of mind

It's been deemed society's silent killer—we're looking at loneliness.

 Dan Murray-Serter
Dan Murray-Serter
January 13, 2020
3 min read

You know by now we're all about brain health and performance - focusing our efforts and expertise on helping you understand how your brain works and what to feed it from both a nutritional and knowledge point of view, to keep it in great shape.

But, as this Friday is World Mental Health Day, we're going to focus on the mind for a change, and shine a light on one of the key causes of mental health disorders - so we don't shy away from the important stuff.

A study from Trinity College Dublin has found that, rather than being a one-dimensional thing, loneliness can be split into four classes, with two of them having symptoms as serious as a psychiatric disorder.

A singular problem.

There are two types of loneliness, social and emotional. Social loneliness relates to the quantity of people you have relationships with, whereas emotional loneliness is about the quality of those relationships.

Almost 2,000 people aged 21-70 took part in the study, and 17.1% of them were found to be “lonely”. Their results were categorised into four classes based on their responses on both emotional and social scales:

  • Low on both emotional and social loneliness scales - 52.8%

  • Social Loneliness - 8.2%

  • Emotional Loneliness - 26.6%

  • Social and Emotional Loneliness - 12.4%

The first two classes were the least psychologically distressed, whereas people in the “emotional” and “social and emotional” classes were suffering symptoms of depression, anxiety and negative psychological wellbeing.

Loneliness can also lead to physical illnesses like asthma and autoimmune diseases, as genes which promote inflammation are more active among lonely people. It’s also a major mortality risk, with loneliness ranking close to obesity and smoking in terms of damage to your health.

Quality over quantity - Big Time.

The biggest takeaway here, (pay attention, social butterflies) is that it’s the quality of your connections with people, not the sheer number of them - that makes the biggest difference to your health.

It's just for now

Try to focus on the fact that loneliness is a temporary state due to a lapse in effort or change in situation. Here are some tips to help you get out of the funk:

  • Rather than pouring all your energy into finding new friends, or footballs named Wilson - make a conscious effort to connect with people you already know. Simple things like a birthday text, offers to babysit, and calling just for a chat can go a long way.

  • Schedule times to leave the house, consistently. For a class, sport or club, for example. Taking part in something you know you’ll enjoy will help you to foster natural connections with likeminded people.

  • Think of friendships as investments, you need to have some patience, and give them attention little and often - but the pay-off is so worth it.

  • Animals are amazing at combating loneliness but we can't all have pets. That's why sites like Borrow My Doggy exist... 

For the Nerdy: One is the loneliest number (Source: Psychology Today)

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