In February, we recognize relationships of all kinds ranging from romance to “Galentines” with flower bouquets, mushy cards and chalky candies. Love is supposed to be in the air. But if you’re one of the millions of Americans facing loneliness, this month can feel extra cold.
According to a recent article in Time Magazine*, one in four American adults say they rarely or never feel as though they have close friends or family who truly understand them, and millions of adults consider TV their main source of company. In the U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May appointed the first-ever Minister for Loneliness early last year. This condition afflicts people across the world of all age groups and socioeconomic statuses. And it’s something that mental health professionals are taking seriously.
“Loneliness is very subjective and personal, so people are going to experience it differently. Some people feel lonely when they’re isolated and others feel lonely when they’re surrounded by people. You don’t necessarily have to be by yourself to feel lonely,” Cathy Cywinski, a Clinical Therapist at Central Wyoming Counseling Center, said.
Defining this emotion is difficult as it manifests itself differently from person to person; some people feel completely alone even if they’re often in groups while others can be fulfilled and healthy in solitude. Generally speaking, loneliness is a discrepancy between what you have and what you want. You want more connection and to feel like you have other people who understand you and care about you. Ironically, in today’s hyper-connected world, more people than ever report feeling lonely. Social media tends to exacerbate feelings of isolation and is considered a huge factor in the dramatic increase of loneliness.
“As we’ve become addicted to social media and our phones, we’ve forgotten how to communicate with each other in real life. When you’re used to relying on Facebook and Instagram for connections, you feel very lonely if that gets taken away when you don’t get your Likes and comments,” Cywinski said.
Fortunately, she says there are practical ways to combat this. If you feel lonely because you’re having a hard time meeting people, do something you enjoy in a new setting. Join a book club, enroll in a cooking class or pick up a new group fitness activity. Take yourself out of your comfort zone as you participating in something you enjoy.
However, loneliness can also be part of a larger mental health disorder like depression or anxiety. Loneliness can mask clinical depression, so Cywinski cautions people who are feeling lonely to also be on the lookout for other signs of depression like poor concentration, not participating in things you usually enjoy or suicidal thoughts. Depression can also cause loneliness, as people with mental health disorders often feel isolated and misunderstood, so they’re not usually engaging meaningfully with other people. But with help, this cycle can be broken.
“Whether you’re just experiencing loneliness or it’s part of a bigger mental health issue, Central can absolutely help. We’re here to be your support system. We have a great team of people in place who can work with you to develop strategies on finding new ways to meet people and get you out of your comfort zone. And when necessary, we can treat and address whatever condition is causing your loneliness,” Cywinski said.
If this time of year has you feeling especially isolated or sad, call Central at 237.9583 or visit during their Open Access hours Mondays, Wednesday and Friday from 9:00-11:0 a.m. or Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2:00-4:00 p.m. You’ll love yourself for making the change.
* Source: “The Loneliness Epidemic” by Markham Heid Time Magazine; Dec. 2018