So, despite the fact that we are more connected than ever, through social media like Facebook and Twitter (to name just a few), these platforms only serve to make our loneliness worse. Yes, we have many "friends" on Facebook but almost everyone is virtual. Sure, we can "chat' with them and share experiences but, as you probably already know, it just isn't the same as having a real friend that you can hug, share coffee and a conversation with, or attend a movie together. There's simply no substitute for that one-on-one connection we get with our real-world friends and family. What happens, then, to the millions of people who don't, for whatever reason, have those personal connections?
Chronic loneliness can lead to many different diseases, including heart disease and depression. We've all experienced bouts of loneliness but they are, fortunately for us, usually short-lived. For many others, though, loneliness becomes a constant and limiting factor in their daily life. Psychological studies are showing that it is possible that loneliness is part of our biological warning system, indicating that we've strayed too far from our tribe, or pack. One benefit of being surrounded by others is safety and protection. But nurturing also enters in as a factor. We all need to feel loved, accepted, and connected. Science is showing that too much loneliness is more deadly than obesity. But is there a way we can help alleviate the suffering of lonely people? The short answer is yes! The long answer follows.
It starts off, though, with public awareness. Which makes this day even more meaningful. We can't help if we're not made aware that there's a huge problem that needs our attention. After public awareness, we need an action plan.
People who suffer from loneliness have a fine-tuned 'pity meter' so it becomes important that we don't just give them pity, but actually do something to help. According to one Oprah Winfrey expert, there is no greater kindness that we can offer our lonely friends and neighbors, than NOT extending them a "magnanimous" gesture that makes them feel like a charity case. Rather, it's important to offer them smaller things, like a coffee or lunch date. Experts say that some people are so overwhelmed by their loneliness that they can't really talk about it. So by taking them to dinner or a concert, it'll give you something to discuss later. Another important way you can help is to accompany them to a medical appointment. Doctors admit to not spending as much time (or give the same care) to people who are alone, as they do to patients who have a supportive family or friend with them. (Shame on you doctors! But I digress...) And after you've made plans, try not to cancel or reschedule. But should the need arise, call them; don't send a text or email! People who are chronically lonely often don't see the world the same as the non-lonely, You can help them to interpret remarks and nonverbal behaviors in a clearer, more positive way. If you do take a lonely friend or acquaintance to a party, remember that they are not your "Wingman." Don't abandon them at at the buffet, should someone more interesting come along. Include them in your conversations with others. If you know of a great little coffee or tea shop that offers a sense of community, take your lonely friend there and introduce them to others you might know. This will offer them a place to "hangout" when you're not around. Giving them a place of comfort, outside of their home, is so important! And, finally, invite them to join you and your partner on your Saturday outing to the Farmer's Market or trip to IKEA. Just because you're a couple, doesn't mean that you can't or shouldn't include them every now and again.
Loneliness today is not only very real, but it also all too common, Today, reach out to someone you know who is lonely. Extend an invitation for coffee and conversation. It will make a world of difference to them and, I suspect, you'll feel pretty swell, too, for caring and sharing your time.