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Excerpt from "Stop Being Lonely"

The Top 3 Myths About Loneliness

by Kira Asatryan

Feeling lonely is an increasingly common experience, and yet loneliness is a condition that’s often misunderstood. Many consider it an unpleasant, but not terribly serious, feeling that dissipates over time. For those who’ve felt lonely only during times of transition – when leaving home or moving cities, for example – loneliness can seem no more significant than homesickness or nostalgia. 

But research indicates that loneliness is not only becoming increasingly common – one in five Americans regularly suffer from loneliness, and that number is continually rising – its physical and psychological consequences are much more serious than we once believed. The negative health repercussions of loneliness are on par with obesity, alcoholism, and smoking. 

If this doesn’t sound like the loneliness you’re familiar with, you may have some outdated ideas about what loneliness looks like. Let’s discuss the top three myths about what causes – and what reduces – the feeling of loneliness.

Myth #1: Loneliness is caused by a lack of people in one's life

There is no more pervasive myth about loneliness than the notion that people get lonely because they are alone. In reality, some people can spend long bouts of time alone and never feel lonely, while other people can feel desperately lonely despite having many people in their lives.

The idea that loneliness is caused by having fewer relationships has been thoroughly discredited through many scientific studies. One study that aimed to figure out if it’s really “lonely at the top” concluded that though leaders in general have less friends and confidantes than non-leaders, they suffer lower rates of loneliness. Why? Because they feel good about the few relationships they do have.

In other words, loneliness is not caused by a lack of relationships, it’s caused by a lack of positive feeling about one’s relationships. As the authors of the study concluded: “Being alone is not the same as feeling alone. You can have thousands of friends and feel lonely, or have only a single friend and feel connected.”

Myth #2: Lonely people are socially awkward

When we imagine a chronically lonely person, most of us picture a reclusive bookworm or a nerdy outsider, but these stereotypes are just that – stereotypes. Not only does loneliness affect a far wider population than just “loners,” it’s also been proven that people who suffer from chronic loneliness actually have better social skills than people who don’t. 

In a recent experiment conducted at Franklin and Marshall College, psychologist Megan Knowles discovered that lonely people detect social cues – such as facial expressions and tone of voice – better than their non-lonely counterparts. Unfortunately, despite the lonely participants being more socially adept, they also tended to worry more about saying the wrong thing in social situations. They tended to “choke” socially.

So what does this mean? It means that lonely people do indeed know how to interact with others. They simply put more pressure on themselves socially. Lonely people tend to value their relationships a great deal, and because they actually care more about garnering good relationships, they often psych themselves out.

Myth #3: Loneliness is not a serious condition

Most people realize that mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety have a serious impact on one’s health. Because loneliness is not classified as a mental health disorder, it’s often considered less detrimental to health and well-being than these similar conditions.

In fact, the negative physical consequences of loneliness are known to be extremely significant. Studies have shown that chronic loneliness increases mortality, inhibits one’s immune system, increases blood pressure, worsens sleep patterns, and has negative health consequences on par with obesity, alcoholism, and cigarette smoking. It’s even associated with dementia in older adults.

Time Magazine recently ran a piece entitled, “Why Loneliness May Be The Next Big Public-Health Issue.” Doesn’t that sound like a phenomenon worth taking seriously?

If you are one of the 60 million Americans who struggle with loneliness, isn’t it time to consider how loneliness may be impacting your life?

Kira Asatryan is a couples coach and a team coach who trains Silicon Valley startups to work cohesively. She is also a popular blogger on Psychology Today and other sites. Prior to becoming a full-time relationship coach and writer, she ran marketing campaigns across major platforms including Facebook, Twitter, and Google Search. She lives in San Francisco, CA and her websites are www.StopBeingLonely.com and www.KiraAsatryan.com

Based on the book Stop Being Lonely © Copyright Kira Asatryan. Reprinted with permission from New World Library. www.NewWorldLibrary.com

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