by Vibhu Krishna, Zuna Yoga Bali yoga teacher training graduate
Loneliness is a public health issue. In fact, it may even kill you prematurely. Now more than ever, we are glued to screens and media, unwittingly isolating ourselves and acting in opposition to our inherently social nature. Even with an unprecedented number of ways to be connected online, loneliness in real life is a gloomy reality for many. According to a large-scale study presented at the American Psychological Association, social connection is associated with a 50% reduced risk of premature death, while social isolation has a comparable risk of premature death to obesity. While this meta-analysis may not be all-encompassing, it certainly pinpoints the major health risk that loneliness poses.
In another meta-analysis, 70 studies—representing 3.4 million people—were analyzed. Social isolation, loneliness, or living alone all were identified as risk factors for premature death. These findings are consistent with a previous study associating loneliness with a 30% increased risk for heart disease and stroke. The AARP’s Loneliness Study found around 35% of survey respondents to be lonely, revealing the pervasiveness of this sentiment in modern society.
So, how can we take steps to actively combat loneliness?
1. Give negative, self-deprecating thoughts the boot
When was the last time you woke up and thought something positive about yourself? Recognizing negative thought patterns and overcoming them can give you the confidence and mood boost to reduce feelings of loneliness. Loneliness can often be a self-inflicted feeling, stemming from stories we tell ourselves about being unworthy or unlovable. We must remember that these tales are not entirely based upon fact.
2. Build your network
Whether through a community center, local café, or meetup, there are many ways to find people whose interests align with yours. Join like-minded people for a yoga retreat or teacher training. Volunteer for a cause you are passionate. It's a great way to feel more connected while doing good in the community. Take initiative and put yourself out there.
3. Yoga and meditation
By engaging in practices that tap into our need to feel connected while improving our overall wellness, we begin to understand our connectedness to the human and cosmic tapestry. As an added bonus, these practices help build mindfulness, which can be applied to future meaningful interactions with others and with oneself.
4. Face time, not facetime
Make time for interpersonal communication outside of the screen with the people you already do know. Have you had dinner with your next door neighbors? Ask a colleague you’d like to get to know better to grab coffee. Go to an event with a childhood friend. Organic, real-time interactions can provide a much more secure sense of connection than contrived web ones.
5. Ask for help.
Loneliness and isolation can have serious consequences on physical and mental health. Seek out therapy, counseling, or a wellness-oriented program that will help break the cycle of loneliness.
"Being connected to others socially is widely considered a fundamental human need—crucial to both well-being and survival,” says Dr. Julianna Holt-Lunstad, Professor of Psychology at Brigham Young University. Be sure to make the time and effort to feed this integral part of your humanity. Not doing so could be lethal.