Attend to loneliness: you’re not the only one!

It’s holiday time and we’ve dusted off Resilience Tip #23 on loneliness. To read an update Winter scene - person with dogand our five tips for increasing¬†social connection, read the December 2015 issue of our e-newsletter, Our Voice. If you’re not a subscriber, you’ll want to fix that! It’s free!

Simply visit our website and subscribe in the box at the top right corner of our page:¬†http://disabilityalliancebc.org/. If you’re reading this after December 18th, you’ll need to get in touch with me to receive the e-newsletter article. Email shelley@disabilityalliancebc.org

Resilience Tip #23 [originally published March 2014]

by Shelley Hourston

Most of us know that social connections increase our resilience. However, we may not be aware that absence of a strong social network–loneliness–has a direct impact on our health. Loneliness is complicated by stigma. Admitting that you’re lonely is often perceived as admitting that you’re a failure in some way. Lonely people must surely be misfits or socially inept. Especially in this age of social networking, it’s easy to believe that loneliness must mean that you are truly unworthy of human connection or companionship.

Psychologist John Cacioppo notes that loneliness is a bigger problem than people realize and has serious consequences.* Chronic loneliness is linked to a range of health issues such as low immune function, heart disease, depression and ultimately a shorter life. Chronic or long-term social isolation increases our stress response as if our bodies are waiting for a dire threat. Cacioppo points to the evolutionary nature of this reaction. Being alone, for our distant ancestors, meant abandoning the protection of the group and jeopardizing one’s genetic contribution to the next generation.

Loneliness is not measured by the number of social connections we have but rather by the quality of those relationships. Our fast-paced, urban and insular lifestyle is often cited as a cause of loneliness. A Globe & Mail article** provides perspectives on loneliness, “the longing that dare not speak its name.” For those of us living with disabilities and chronic illness, addressing loneliness is vital. Strategies for increasing and improving social connections, however, are diverse and will require some self-reflection. If you feel that you could benefit from growing or nurturing your social network it may be useful to consider activities you enjoy and existing relationships you might enhance. If you have suggestions for ways of managing loneliness that have worked for you and that you’re willing to share, let me know and I’ll compile them for a future post. Contact Shelley at 604-875-0188 (toll-free 1-877-232-7400 or email shelley@disabilityalliancebc.org.

* “Psychologist John Cacioppo explains why loneliness is bad for your health” (January 25, 2011). Available: http://tinyurl.com/kth7fr9

** Elizabeth Renzetti. “Life of solitude: A loneliness crisis is looming.” Globe & Mail (November 23, 2013). Available: http://tinyurl.com/kupgcys