The loneliness epidemic (Week 1)

February 28, 2019

The Counseling Corner

By Rev. Judith T. Lester, B.Min. M.Th

In 2010, AARP published a report Loneliness Among Older Adults: A National Survey of Adults 45+ showing that a little over one-third (35 percent) of the 3,000 survey respondents were categorized as lonely reporting significant bouts of loneliness. The study also found that lonely respondents were less likely to be involved in activities that build social networks, such as attending religious services, volunteering, participating in a community organization or spending time on a hobby. This month, this column will look at loneliness which experts have called the percentage of lonely Americans are at epidemic levels.

What causes loneliness?

According to research by John Cacioppo, a University of Chicago psychologist and one of the top loneliness experts, loneliness is strongly connected to genetics. Other contributing factors include situational variables, such as physical isolation, moving to a new location and divorce. The death of someone significant in a person’s life can also lead to feelings of loneliness.

Loneliness can also be a symptom of a psychological disorder such as depression. Loneliness can also be attributed to internal factors such as low self-esteem. People who lack confidence in themselves often believe that they are unworthy of the attention or regard of other people. This can lead to isolation and chronic loneliness.

While it is normal to feel lonely from time to time, ongoing loneliness triggers many other issues. Research has shown that loneliness can impact stress, heart health and immunity. But these are not the only areas in which loneliness takes its toll. “Lonely adults consume more alcohol and get less exercise than those who are not lonely,” explained John Cacioppo, co-author of the book Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection. Cacioppo noted in an interview with U.S. News and World Report regarding loneliness and those experiencing intense loneliness: “Their diet is higher in fat, their sleep is less efficient, and they report more daytime fatigue. Loneliness also disrupts the regulation of cellular processes deep within the body, predisposing us to premature aging.”

Beloved, it is my prayer that as you prayerfully read these articles this month that you will become aware and sensitive to your lonely friends, family and fellow Christian brothers and sisters and ask yourself, how can I reach out to them and help lessen the burden of their loneliness?

Source: Anderson, G. Oscar. Loneliness Among Older Adults: A National Survey of Adults 45+. Washington, DC: AARP Research, September 2010.

Next Week: Continuation

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