Lonely but not alone
Feelings of loneliness are very common; an online survey related to wellbeing and loneliness conducted during 2020/21 found that 6% of respondents (approximately 3 million people in England) said they feel lonely often or always. Loneliness relates to perceived social isolation, not objective physical isolation, and as such is a personal experience. Someone who lives a solitary life may never feel lonely, and someone with a hectic social life may feel lonely often. This is because loneliness is defined as the distressing feelings caused by the perception that one’s social needs are being met- neither in terms of quantity nor quality. “One thing I’ve learned is the difference between feeling alone and feeling lonely — and how you can feel lonely in a crowd full of people, but quite peaceful and content when alone”. The causes of loneliness can vary from person to person, feelings of loneliness can arise from a current life experience (such as a breakup, retiring, moving to a different city) or a certain time of the year (Christmas, Saint Valentine’s).
The human species, like all social species, relies on a safe, secure social environment to be able to thrive. Everyone can feel lonely at some point in their life, some even believe it’s a feeling similar to hunger, thirst, or physical pain- and thus serves a useful purpose. If we ignore it, loneliness can have serious consequences for health, cognition, emotion, and behavior.
Longitudinal studies have found that loneliness can have a variety of consequences, including being a predictor of an increase in morbidity and mortality. A study published in 2006 that followed a total of 1037 socially isolated children until they were 26 years of age found that those who had been more socially isolated were at significant risk of poor adult health compared with nonisolated children. Extending this research, another study published in 2006 found loneliness was associated with elevated systolic blood pressure (SBP) and age-related increases in SBP in 229 participants, ages 50–68 years. A follow-up study published in 2010 of these same individuals showed that the increase in SBP was cumulative, with higher initial levels of loneliness being associated with greater increases in SBP over a 4-year period. According to a 2009 study, among women, high loneliness was associated with an increased risk of incident coronary heart disease (CHD).
Chronic feelings of loneliness can also have a negative impact on your mental health. Some research suggests that loneliness is associated with an increased risk of certain mental health issues, from depression, and anxiety, to low self-esteem, sleep problems, and increased stress. A study published in 2017 collected data from 290 elderly participants and found that loneliness influenced their mental and physical quality of life. The elderly participants with high levels of loneliness were at an increased risk of experiencing poorer mental health and reduced capacity to withstand stressors. Another study focusing on the effects of loneliness on mental health in the elderly found that being a woman, being older, living alone, having fewer economic resources, having lower perceived health, and being dissatisfied with the frequency of contact with relatives and friends were found to be significant predictors of feelings of loneliness.
Objective and perceived social isolation raises the risk of Major Depressive Disorder and Generalised Anxiety Disorder, and are a risk factor for a deterioration in the quality of our social life. A study published in 2017 found that feeling lonely was associated with distress. The study collected and analysed data from 15,010 participants, between the ages of 35–74. A total of 10.5% of the participants reported some degree of loneliness (with 4.9% being slight, 3.9% moderately, and 1.7% severely distressed by loneliness). More than half of the loneliest participants were also depressed (vs. 5% in the group without loneliness). Generalized anxiety, panic attacks, and suicidality were strongly associated with loneliness, along with a dramatic increase in suicidal ideation, from 6% to 42%.
The effects of chronic or prolonged loneliness can be detrimental to the whole being, putting the whole body at a higher risk of mental and physical health issues. This is why we have to make an effort to connect with loved ones. A study published in 2018 found that the more often the participants in the study were around other people and interacting, the higher their sense of well-being. Additionally, socialising is good for your brain. There’s a growing amount of evidence that shows that an active and social lifestyle in late life protects against dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
There are many ways to boost your social engagement, from joining a class to having friends and family over for tea. One way to motivate yourself to start connecting with more people around you is to use a tool that is really convenient for you, such as your phone. FitQuid is a mobile application that will be available on both Android and IOS and aims to help you address the challenge of beating loneliness.
The FitQuid app offers many challenges that help you to get in the habit of meeting and interacting with others around you, such as “Park Meet & Greet’’ which is based on NHS recommendations and encourages you to gradually start connecting with others. To complete this particular challenge, you have to simply go to a park and socialise at least once a week. You can also create your own personalised challenge using FitQuid to address loneliness which is tailor-made for your own situation. For example, you can design a challenge that involves visiting a public space you enjoy at least once a week. You can choose a specific coffee shop near you, and create a challenge where you have to check in to the coffee shop’s location every time you go. Perhaps you can add a time as well to make sure that you spend at least 15 minutes during every visit. Once you have completed this initial challenge, you can then take it up a notch and level up your challenge for another week using FitQuid.
This is the beauty of FitQuid’s open canvass; you can take part in one of the numerous public challenges, have a healthcare professional create and prescribe a challenge for you, or create your own challenge. This completely free tool has been created with the aim of helping you face your mental health challenges.
FitQuid is launching very soon, stay tuned in and follow us on https://linktr.ee/FitQuid to stay up to date with our launch news & updates.