Battling Loneliness: A Global Epidemic & How to Combat It

By Andrea Herman, MSW, LCSW

In a world where we’re more connected than ever through technology, it’s paradoxical that loneliness has become a global epidemic. The irony lies in the fact that despite the increasing number of people and the myriad ways we can connect, many of us are feeling more isolated and alone than ever before. Loneliness isn’t just an emotional struggle; research has revealed its profound impact on our physical health. Chronic loneliness has been associated with accelerated aging, a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, and dementia. It has even been found to be as harmful as smoking a pack of cigarettes per day.

The Silent Stigma

Loneliness often remains unspoken and shrouded in stigma. People may feel ashamed about feeling lonely, believing that their loneliness is a personal failing or a deficit in their social skills. However, it’s essential to recognize that loneliness isn’t necessarily a result of individual shortcomings. Instead, it’s a product of our modern society, where trends lean toward smaller families, remote work, scattered social networks, reduced engagement in religious or community activities, and the convenience of in home delivery services that limit in-person interactions.

A Biological Necessity

Loneliness isn’t merely a social failing; it’s a biological necessity deeply rooted in our evolutionary history. Like hunger and thirst, it served as a survival mechanism for early humans. Social pain from rejection ensured we adhered to group norms, increasing our chances of survival. While we no longer need this mechanism to survive in our modern world, loneliness still hurts just as much. Our nervous systems remain fundamentally unchanged from the time when we lived in small, tightly knit groups of 100 to 250 people throughout our lives.

Understanding the Pain

Understanding why loneliness hurts so much can help us foster compassion and empathy, both for ourselves and for others. Being lonely doesn’t mean there’s something inherently wrong with us. It’s often a consequence of the rapidly changing and increasingly complex world we live in. Recognizing this fact empowers us to take the risk of reaching out and expanding our social connections without a sense of shame or embarrassment that we don’t have enough social support.

Steps to Combat Loneliness

To combat loneliness, start small. Even short interactions and connections can make a difference in feeling less lonely. Invite a coworker for coffee, check out an on-line meet up app, or engage in activities that align with your interests, like volunteering at a pet shelter or taking cooking classes. Even casual conversations with the barista at your local coffee shop or the grocery store clerk can make a difference in satisfying our innate need for human connection.

Investing in social connections should be a priority, just like maintaining physical health. It’s easy to let socializing slip when overwhelmed with work and home demands, but remember that it’s crucial for your well-being and that of others.

Seeking Help

If loneliness remains a persistent source of distress, however, consider delving deeper. Two recommended books on loneliness are “Emotional First Aid” and “Loneliness” by Cadoppel and Patrick. Additionally, speaking with a therapist can provide invaluable support for navigating this complex emotional terrain and exploring potential solutions.

In a world where loneliness is prevalent but often unspoken, understanding its roots and taking proactive steps to combat it can lead to a brighter, more connected future for us all.

Andrea is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with over twenty years of experience in mental health. She believes in the fundamental power of a person feeling safe, nurtured, and validated throughout the counseling process and the alliance being a precursor to real long-lasting growth and change. Andrea is currently accepting new clients. To learn more about Andrea or to inquire about appointment availability, please click here.