Loneliness, as we age

Almost everyone experiences loneliness sometimes. However, as we age and lose people close to us or move to unfamiliar surroundings, loneliness can become prevalent. The Wall Street Journal writer, Elizabeth Bernstein reports a new study by the research team, John and Stephanie Cacioppo at the University of Chicago. Their research shows that our brains operate differently when we our lonely. The electrical activity in the brain of a lonely person is fast and more extreme; this creates an aura of guarding against social threat. The person goes into a mode of self-preservation. Loneliness is not the same as being alone. We can be happy alone but not when we feel lonely. I am absolutely sure that I have begged sometimes to be alone! At the same time I can identify with those who are lonely because of changing circumstances. I even know people who are lonely even when they have opportunities to extend themselves. In this case, there is a downward spiraling, and planned events are cancelled. Depression and loneliness often walk together.

So what to do? The Drs. Cacioppo suggest:   1. Extend yourself.   Go out even if you have to push yourself. 2. Develop a social plan with activities that you design and carry out. Invite someone and don’t back out. 3. Share good times with people who enjoy what you enjoy. 4. Be positive and expect the best from others. Remember if you are lonely you might be thinking others do not like you and this is likely not true. I might want to add another suggestion or two. If you are lonely, do something for someone else. There is a revised sense of a worthwhile activity. Don’t want to get dressed up to go out? Find an activity that allows you to just walk out in casual outfit like a workout outfit. That way people think that you are really “with it”. Just make sure you didn’t drip your last meal on it. Go out during the day when it is sunny and you feel better.

Want to know more? Write elizabeth.bernstein@wsj.com.

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