Loneliness is like the swine flu

Look out! It’s not just H1N1 you can catch from others; loneliness may be lurking by to get you. The article, Loneliness May Be Catching in US News and World Report says “Loneliness can spread from person to person to person — up to three degrees of separation,” according to James H. Fowler, co-author of the study published in the December issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

According to Fowler, the data suggests that the average person feels lonely about 48 days a year, but for the lonely, that feeling can be ever-present. In addition, the study indicated that people who felt lonely were more likely to be friendless, or constantly shedding friends, a few years later: Compared with those who are never lonely, lonely people can lose about 8 percent of their friends over a four-year period, for instance.

The team constructed graphs tracking the participants’ ongoing friendship patterns over two to four years. They found that, among neighbors, an increase of loneliness of just one day per week triggered a rise in loneliness among neighbor-friends, as well. And that loneliness actually spread throughout the community as affected neighbors saw each other less, the researchers said.

So, loneliness is contagious (and in case you didn’t know, it’s not good for you). If so, I wouldn’t want to be friends with me. Loneliness is something I’ve struggled with and still face. My psychiatrist and I try to address this issue often, but it’s really hard to become ‘less lonely’ when you don’t really want to be around people. Also, this isn’t something I readily want to admit about myself. It’s an eerie, crushing emptiness that I feel. Regardless of how much I look like I’m enjoying myself, I just never feel like I fit in. It’s a hard issue to try to solve when the solution doesn’t necessarily lie in simply being around more people.

I’d like to think that having lived with a cat has helped me become more cognizant of that loneliness and have alleviated the intensity of that feeling. I’ve certainly learned through my cat that I am actually able to connect with another being. Also, writing this journal has helped me keep connected. By getting myself to write nearly everyday, it’s kind of like I’m learning to share a part of me with others. It does feel good to get a little note or a comment of encouragement.

If loneliness is bad for you and can be caught, then what do we need to do? A separate article in US News lists four ways to stay connected as you age. And not everything that’s contagious is bad for you. US News actually had an article that stated that happiness is infectious. So, there. That’s a good thing.

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