Isolating the Cause for Loneliness

As Valentine’s day approaches, UCSD Health studies can pinpoint causes for loneliness while author Billy Baker gives a potential way to confront the feeling of isolation. 

Even before the pandemic, Americans were feeling lonely. A survey found that three out of every five Americans felt lonely. Whether it is a lack of friendships or of quality ones, people were beginning to feel more isolated. 

And enduring nearly a year of the Coronavirus can’t be helping.

The concept of loneliness is one that can creep up on people until they look at their current state of relationships and find a wreckage of past flings and friendships. Until the middle of one’s life, everything changes quickly from where you live, where you go to school, and where you work.

Each of these changes results in making new friendships and losing others due to a lack of communication. In between finding new friends, a lack of relationships can leave people lonely and searching for some sort of connection. 

A group of researchers, some from UC San Diego Health, aimed to understand which age groups suffered the most from loneliness. According to their findings, people in their 20s suffered from loneliness the most, but the effects extended beyond their ambitions and goals.  

“A lot of people in this decade are also constantly comparing themselves on social media and are concerned about how many likes and followers they have,” said Tanya Nguyen, Ph.D., first author of the study and assistant clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UC San Diego School of Medicine told UCSD Health. “The lower level of self-efficacy may lead to greater loneliness.”

Self-efficacy, defined as “the ability to reflect confidence in exerting control over one’s own motivation, behavior and social environment,” is one of the concepts that the study centers on. If someone cannot control what they want to control, the study claims, it leads to a combination of problems stemming from things people both can and can’t control. 

For starters, people can remove themselves from environments like social media to reduce the negative reactions received from  seeing other couples and relationships. The compounding effect of lacking a partner and seeing the relationships of others on social media breeds the feeling of loneliness. Even people who may not feel the need for a relationship may feel as if they are missing out compared to their peers. 

Over time, people end up controlling more of their self-efficacy after going through many struggles and learning more about themselves. This, the study claims, is the reason why wisdom is one of the factors that leads to reduced loneliness and more happiness. 

UCSD Health published a study in September 2020 that found wisdom and age leads to less loneliness.

“If we can increase someone’s compassion, wisdom is likely to go up and loneliness is likely to go down,” said David Brenner, MD, Vice Chancellor of UC San Diego Health Sciences. “At UC San Diego, we have considerable interest in enhancing empathy and compassion to reduce levels of stress and improve happiness and well-being.” 

Both of the studies showed that loneliness can be controlled depending on the environment that people place themselves in. These environments can change and if they do not, there is potential for feelings of sadness or depression to creep in. 

 “Lonely individuals had longer responses in qualitative interviews, and more greatly expressed sadness to direct questions about loneliness,” UCSD Health stated in the article “Researchers Use Artificial Intelligence Tools to Predict Loneliness.”

When the need to combat loneliness arises, a potential path to address the issue is reaching out to past friends that you may have left behind. People can rapidly churn through relationships, especially during college, yet even during college there is potential to reach out to friends from highschool and one’s childhood. 

Students can transfer to another college or change majors that results in different study groups. As soon as students graduate, there are various post-graduate schools and potential immediate career paths. There are more obstacles than means to connect with friendships developed in college. 

Cycling through friends makes it harder to create long standing friendships. Billy Baker, a Boston Globe reporter and author, published a book called “We Need to Hang Out.” In the book, Baker references the consequences of lacking these long term friendships. 

“Isolation, even living alone — all these, like, little things, can make you more susceptible to basically everything you don’t want,” Baker told National Public Radio. “I wanted to know how to be friends with my friends in this period in life — you know, this broad period we call middle age — where there’s so many other things begging for your attention that friends, you know, wasn’t one of the priorities when I woke up every morning.”

Baker’s realization came later on in his life. At the middle point, after cycling through various friends and phases of life, most friendships and connections begin to dwindle. The reason why he came to this realization was due to an article he was writing that needed a quote. 

When reaching out, Baker found out that his friend had left the country and uprooted his life in the U.S. 

“And it was like, oh, this — you’re not going to be happy to hear this,” Baker told NPR. “‘But I forgot to tell you, I moved to Vienna.’ And this was a guy I would have considered my best friend in the world. And so — you know, I did a lot of things on this journey. And the first thing I did was chase him to Vienna.”

From then on, Baker reached out to a lot more friends to eventually set up a large get-together. In his interview with NPR, he mentioned that friendships and relationships as a whole are all temporary connections that need rekindling in order to be kept.

“I use this phrase in the book, velvet hooks,” Baker told NPR. “There are these things that connect people. And they’re soft. You’re not locked in iron — the weekly golf game, the fantasy football, the bar trivia, the book clubs, the sports teams, whatever it is, you know. They’re the excuse to get together.”

These friendships are always on the edge of being lost. All it takes is a lack of reaching out for an extended period of time. As more time passes, friendships remain on the velvet until the hook is unconnected. This places the initiative on people to make sure they reach out.

While new friends can always be made, reaching out is a potentially simple solution to loneliness. This is a lesson older people learn as they gain wisdom, but on a day like Valentine’s Day, reaching out to former friends and staying off social media could be cupid’s arrow aimed at self-efficacy. 

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3 thoughts on “Isolating the Cause for Loneliness

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