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Culture & Religion

Some Scientists Believe Loneliness is Becoming an Epidemic

Loneliness isn't just for the elderly, more adults 18 to 24 report these feelings of isolation, which make people depressed, stand-offish, and untrustworthy. So, how can you cure the lonely?

More and more adults report feeling lonely. It’s not just the elderly, but younger adults 18 to 24 that are reporting these feelings of isolation. John Cacioppo and Stephanie Cacioppo from New Scientist write that loneliness is becoming a modern epidemic, even when we’re more connected than ever, these thoughts of being alone together are breaking us down.

Humans are social creatures–we thrive in groups and decline when we’re alone for too long, often becoming depressed. But the Cacioppos explain that loneliness doesn’t just mean being physically alone, it can also mean feeling like you’re on the social perimeter of a group.

In nature, fish on the edge of the school are more likely to be attacked by predators, so their sense of self-preservation heightens. When placed in isolated situations, social animals switch their behavior to concentrate on short-term survival. But this alteration in thinking comes at the cost of long-term health if this behavior persists without resolve.

People can become socially withdrawn over time, which can make them hostile toward others. Risk of cognitive decline increases in addition to impulsive behavior. This behavior is leftover from our ancestors in the days when tribes and groups meant success or death. But in our modern society, these old psychological triggers stop some of us from thriving in bigger cities and communities where we’re more apt to feel alone in a crowd.

The Cacioppos report that therapies to reduce these feelings have had little effect on people’s isolated states. However, one intervention study that focused on having participants talk through their feelings of low self-worth and untrustworthy thoughts toward others held the most promise. Whereas classes involving social training with opportunities to meet people were actually the least effective.

“Given the scale of the problem today, the hunt for better treatments of all types deserves high priority.”

Loneliness has become a real threat to our health. Some scientists have begun to compare the threats to that of moderate smoking and alcoholism. There are many options to help combat loneliness, in real time or over the internet. 

Read more at New Scientist

Read more at Psych Central

Photo Credit: Geraint Rowland/Flickr


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