TW Viewpoint | The Scourge of Loneliness

September 26, 2018 | Winston Gosse

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In January 2018 the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, announced the creation of a new ministerial portfolio in her cabinet for the purpose of combating loneliness. How do we combat the scourge of loneliness?

Melissa Healy from the LA Times wrote, "The country that put the starch in 'stiff upper lip' has made companionship, conversation and human contact a national priority." Loneliness according to Theresa May is a scourge on society and statistics bear that out.

The problem is huge in Britain where 9 million British adults reported that they suffer from chronic loneliness.

In the United States the situation is referred to as an epidemic and Canada does not fare any better.

Lonely people are more likely to try and reach out and make friends on social media. Subsequently they are more likely to trust those they meet online and in this age of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, dating sites etc. and you would think this problem would not exist.

But even with access to social media, social interaction is missing for many people. These various methods of communication actually cause chronic loneliness to persist.

The potential of affecting one's health has also been studied relative to this issue.

According to the late Dr. John T Cacioppo, who founded the Centre for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago, was a leading authority on how loneliness affects physical and mental health. In an article titled "All the Lonely People" AARP magazine looked into Cacioppo's research and stated "There is mounting evidence that loneliness significantly increases the chances of diabetes, sleep disorders, and other life-threatening problems. Research has also has shown a greater risk of high blood pressure among lonely people."

But is loneliness the same as being alone?

Actually, times of solitude can be helpful and rejuvenating and it can be a time of recharging of batteries and getting away for a period from the daily routine.

Maybe you are one who cherishes those times and it provides the boost to get back to the daily responsibilities that life brings. Times of solitude and being alone can be very beneficial but deep-seated loneliness and chronic loneliness is very different.

There are two kinds of loneliness - one is termed as Transient Loneliness and the other is Chronic Loneliness.

What is the difference?

Transient loneliness is temporary in nature - the condition is not permanent. For example, when someone is sick and they are not in contact with friends during their process of recovery yet their condition, they realize is only temporary.

Chronic loneliness is different, much different. It is more permanent and not easily relieved.

Chronic loneliness is a by-product of the competitive and selfish society we live in, where many feel they have been bypassed and forgotten by others.

What do people often do to fill the void in their lives? They occupy themselves with empty pursuits; watching hour after hour of television or excessive use of browsing the internet or playing video games. Overspending and constant shopping and even overeating can be utilized to escape from reality. These pursuits and short-term choices can escalate to alcohol and substance abuse which in turn can lead to chronic loneliness.

What should you do if you find yourself in that state? Are there solutions or help that you can turn to?

The New Yorker has an article titled "The Limits of Friendship." It examines the research of Oxford Psychologist Robin Dunbar and touches upon part of the solution to chronic loneliness. "With social media, we can easily keep up with the lives and interests of far more than a hundred and fifty people. But without investing the face-to-face time, we lack deeper connections to them, and the time we invest in superficial relationships comes at the expense of more profound ones."

This all goes back to the basic principle that "A man who has friends must himself be friendly . . . . " (Proverbs 18:24)

People need people is the bottom line. We have been designed as social creatures, relational beings; we need each other. "No man is an Island" as the song goes.

We all have needs for love, acceptance, belonging, relating, companionship and friendship. Not superficial but meaningful. We all need to invest in that face to face time which does not come through in a very meaningful way by means of a chat site.

Oftentimes lonely people are lonely because they see themselves as lonely. In fact they act in ways that fortify their own image of themselves and their condition in life as being an impossible obstacle to climb.

One of the best ways to overcome and help yourself in a state of loneliness is to go beyond the self. Strive to be selfless!

Seek to serve and benefit the lives of others and show yourself as friendly.

Spend time building relationships with the determination to benefit others and the state of loneliness will begin to dissipate.

No doubt the severity of the problem of chronic loneliness is deep in our society. It takes more than legislation and wishful thinking to resolve and this social problem is so acute that government think tanks have been established to examine and resolve as to what can be done.

There are solutions to this scourge called loneliness. Consider moving away from excessive social media use and dependence and build meaningful face to face relationships with the people around you.

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