Pathways to Wellness

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Lonely, alone, or both?

Loneliness and being alone are not the same thing. Being alone can be satisfying, relaxing and rejuvenating – it can “recharge our batteries.” When being alone is positive, it’s called solitude – a time when some of the most thoughtful, creative work is done. Being alone can be just what you need.

It’s also possible to feel very lonely even when there are lots of people in your life and you have an active social life, busy work, and stable relationships.

Loneliness is not a sign that there is something wrong with you. It’s not a personality defect or a sign of weakness. Loneliness is a survival mechanism just like hunger and thirst. Hunger tells you that your body needs food; thirst tells you that you need to drink. Loneliness is a sign that you need to reconnect with people.

Loneliness is not about the number of people in your life, but the quality of the relationships you have. We feel lonely when our relationships are not meeting our needs, when we don’t trust , or feel we can’t confide in friends and family. We feel lonely when we feel out of step with other people, or believe that no one “has our back.”

Most of us have experienced loneliness at some point in our lives, particularly in times of transition: children taken into care and young adults transitioning out of care; going away to school; getting married or getting divorced; switching jobs or moving to a new school, or community; losing a friend or family member to death.

Loneliness is a health problem when it becomes chronic. Research shows that loneliness and social isolation are responsible for as many deaths each year as lung cancer due to smoking. Loneliness is stressful, and leads to higher blood pressure and stress hormones. It can be hard to get a good night’s sleep. Thinking becomes more negative, and people are seen as threatening. Depression is common. You can see how a vicious cycle can be created. Fortunately there are ways to turn this around.

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