Loneliness is being called an “epidemic.” Here’s why—and how—to prioritize your social life.
Posted in , Mar 9, 2018
There’s a wellness acronym I’ve loved for years. It’s HALT: the idea that if you want to be calm and content, never let yourself get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired.
Researchers are increasingly looking more closely at the “L” in “HALT,” with one report presented to the American Psychological Association finding that chronic loneliness might be a greater public health hazard than obesity.
Loneliness is a problem with many faces. Some people are literally alone most of the time—data compiled by the United Kingdom found that 200,000 people over age 75 had not had a conversation with a friend or relative in more than a month.
But some people can feel lonely even in a crowded room, disconnected from meaningful relationships even though their days are filled with people.
To me, walking a positive path means walking alongside others—people who lift our spirits, share our values, challenge us to grow and learn, and bring us joy. But social satisfaction doesn’t come automatically or even easily to too many people. And in our age of individualized electronic devices, social media and text-based communication, it can be harder than ever to feel truly connected to others.
I was so heartened to read recently that the British Parliament has created a “Minister for Loneliness” position to promote research, education and strategies to combat what some researchers call “the loneliness epidemic.”
Here in the U.S. a growing number of school systems are hiring Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) directors to prioritize social skill development in our children. More and more doctors are also screening adult patients for loneliness at annual physicals, another promising sign.
With the proper social support and community engagement, loneliness is avoidable. If you are feeling lonely, take an inventory of your daily routines and ask yourself how you could inject more social interactions into each day. Try reaching out for volunteer opportunities, clubs and organizations to join, houses of worship to connect with, and old friendships to rekindle. If you are struggling, consult a counselor to help you identify your social obstacles and brainstorm strategies for overcoming them.
Part of your journey to overcome loneliness might lie in exploring this thought from the theologian Paul Tillich: “Loneliness expresses the pain of being alone, and solitude expresses the glory of being alone.”
So don’t be afraid to enjoy solitude, but if you find yourself shifting into loneliness, it’s time to HALT—and get some help.