Social animals that fall away from the pack become vulnerable to physical injuries, starvation and predation. They have evolved a simple mechanism to prevent this — when isolated, they feel stressed. When stressed, they instinctively increase their efforts for self-protection. With animals, this protection comes from physical proximity to the group. Let’s see if the same applies to us.
We are sensitive, emotional beings who get stressed from adverse social connections. Our stress response could be “tend and befriend” or “fight and flight.” The latter response is common because when stressed, we become hypervigilant and stop trusting others. As a result, we avoid people, which leads to further loneliness. This is the loneliness trap. In summary:
Loneliness causes stress; stress causes mistrust/hypervigilance; distrust leads to us avoiding people; avoiding people leads to loneliness.
The loneliness trap is one reason we are getting increasingly lonely as we are getting more populous. Invasion of technology is another reason. If I have a hundred likes on social media, where is the need to hug my mom?
Loneliness is risky. It hurts your body the same as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Interesting research shows that loneliness is less about the number of connections and more about the quality of connections.
In this state, we make efforts to avoid people, which leads to further loneliness.
Recognize this loneliness trap and implement at least one of the following ideas, remembering that with social connections, quality is more important than quantity.
- Connect with people who are happy in your happiness.
- Adopt a pet.
- Send silent gratitude to one person at this moment.
- Send kind energy to someone in your physical or psychological presence.
- Engage in mutually meaningful activity with someone.
Any of these practices will decrease your perceived loneliness, at least for the short term, bringing you hope, warmth and healing.
Dr. Amit Sood answers your questions about stress, resilience, happiness, relationships, and related topics in his column. Email email@example.com.