Humans grow in social situations, according to Louise Hawkley, a principal research scientist at the University of Chicago's Academic Research Centers, NORC. However, how and what form of interaction each person needs to feel a sense of connectedness may differ between people as well as across one's life stage.
A popular misconception is that the loneliest individuals are alone. According to Dr. Carla Perissinotto, professor of medicine and associate chief for Geriatrics Clinical Programs at the University of California, San Francisco, this statement isn't true.
Perissinotto said that children can be lonely because they can't see their friends from school; some who have been stigmatized can be lonely since the society doesn't accept them, and elderly can be lonely due to retirement or the loss of a spouse.
With the pandemic fuelling loneliness, numerous healthcare practitioners are worried about the psychosomatic potential risks, such as depression, cardiovascular disease, and premature death.
That is why, according to specialists, it is crucial to reassess what it signifies to be lonely and what circumvention may be needed.
Quality is far more essential than quantity when combating loneliness through socialization. "One of the things that distinguishes between loneliness and isolation is that loneliness has very little to do with quantity, with how many people you interact with, how many groups you belong to," Hawkley said. "Although there is a relationship, it is not very strong."
Individuals who prefer to live alone, be single, or spend a significant amount of time alone are not exactly worse off in terms of feeling alone, she adds. "People can be around others and feel lonely anyway or they can be pretty much solitary souls and not be lonely,".
According to Perissinotto, the important factor is to ask yourself if you are lonely rather than delving at situations and assuming what sentiments should be linked to it.
There is no rule that says you can't live happily with little loneliness if you choose to be alone. Likewise, just as solitude does not always imply loneliness, involvement does not always imply fulfillment, according to Hawkley.
If your newsfeed is full of photos of social groups at parties, or if you see a colleague anywhere you go who you can speak to, and yet you still feel lonely, Perissinotto says you're not being dramatic.
"You could have a ton of social contacts and still be incredibly lonely," she added. "You can see someone who is very gregarious, and it seems like they are very connected, and yet they have a deep sense of loneliness."
According to Hawkley, there are three types of connections, and loneliness can result from a lack of any of them.
One is called an intimate connection, and it occurs when someone, such as a romantic partner, becomes connected to you that a portion of your individuality becomes interconnected with theirs. The second type of connection is relational connection, which is formed with close friends, and the third type is collective connection, which is formed through interactions that leaves you feeling like you're a part of a society.
She believes it is critical to determine the type of loss of connection causing the loneliness. Then, according to Perissinotto, you must assess the quality of those relationships.
"I think that those are some really tangible things to ask yourself, is it valuable to me? Do I feel valued? Does it help me to feel like I have a sense of purpose and does it make me feel good?" Perissinotto said.
Recognizing the type of connection you seek and the quality of the relationships you have are crucial points, but where you go from there is wholly dependent on your scenario. "There is no one-size-fits-all," Perissinotto said. "For some people, having a really deep, meaningful connection with one person is really critical to those feelings of connection, but for others it could actually be contact with a stranger." Talking about loneliness, whether publicly or privately, is another way to combat it, she added.
If you're having trouble throwing yourself out there to find connections you need, or if you're stuck in habits of believing you won't be well received, Hawkley suggests seeing a mental health specialist.
"For someone who is lonely because they do not have friends or family and wants to meet new people to connect, there are many organizations that help facilitate this either directly, via social connection groups, or indirectly, through shared activities." said Dr. Matt Pantell, an assistant professor in the department of pediatrics and core faculty member of the Center for Health and Community at the University of California, San Francisco.