Here are some depressing facts about loneliness: one, it's reached epidemic proportions, with literally half of Americans telling pollsters they're lonely (and only God knows how many suffering in shame-filled silence). Two, it will kill you. Research shows that the stress of social isolation impacts your health as much as 15 cigarettes a day.
And, sorry to say, the last fact might be the most depressing of all. Not only does science prove that loneliness is deadly, it also shows that loneliness tends to make people touchy, defensive, and pessimistic, which makes it even harder for them to connect with others.
Taken together these facts paint a grim picture of loneliness, but according to psychologists the right response isn't despair. The serious toll loneliness takes on us should be a call to action. Instead of letting loneliness turn you into the sort of grim person no one wants to be around, The Cut blog recently offered a host of simple tips from experts that can help you start building nurturing relationships right now.
1. Practice small talk
In the long run, too much small talk will make you unhappy, but according to clinical psychologist Darin Bergen, if you're lonely, it's a good place to start.
"Practice small talk with cashiers and the other people you encounter throughout your day. When you go into your favorite coffee shop, make a simple comment about the weather or the music that's playing," he recommends. "It can decrease the feeling of loneliness as you're building your social network in other areas. Plus, if you practice this small talk in a variety of situations, it's easier to start a conversation with people you think you want to become friends with."
2. Get comfortable with your own company.
This might sound like counterintuitive advice -- the goal of the lonely is to escape their own company, after all -- but therapist and author Sherry Amatenstein insists that the best foundation for forming solid relationships is comfort with yourself.
"A lot of people crave company -- almost anyone's company -- because they fear the 'void' and discomfort when they are alone. But getting together with others as a desperate attempt to not be in one's company will just leave you feeling more lonely," she cautions. "Instead, learn to enjoy your own company. Some good ways to start: meditation class, take yourself to a movie, reading, watch TED Talks or other things that will make you think, start a gratitude journal."
3. Set reasonable expectations.
Science shows it takes 90 hours to make a friend, so if you expect instant deep connection, you're going to be disappointed. "Friends aren't found; instead, friends are made -- crafted, really -- over time. It takes between six to eight conversations before someone considers us a friend," clinical psychologist and author Ellen Hendriksen reminds readers.
But Hendrikson also has good news to offer: making a friend might take awhile, but it's not hard. "It's been shown again and again that, as long as we are mutually kind to each other, we become friends with whoever we see most often. Proximity and repetition are key," she explains. So stick with it and, over time, you will be rewarded with close friends.
4. Get to know your loneliness.
You can't really solve your loneliness unless you first figure out why you're lonely, clinical psychologist Juli Fraga sensibly points out.
"If you're lonely because your relationships lack depth/meaning, or you feel like people, including friends, don't really know you, it might make sense to examine what's getting in the way of building intimacy," she offers as an example.
5. Reconnect with family.
If you're feeling lonely, your first impulse might be to go out and meet new people, but professional counselor and author Kathleen Smith first challenges her clients to "go back to their family and consider how their immediate and extended families are a resource to them."
"When people start writing letters to a grandparent or setting up a weekly phone call with a sibling, it can have a huge impact on their overall mood. Learning more about your family history and tracking down distant relatives is a wonderful way for people to remember that their lives are part of a larger story with many interesting characters," she insists.
If you find these tips helpful, the complete post offers much more advice.