The Menstuff® library lists pertinent books concerning various
feelings including anger,assertiveness, depression, fear,
forgiveness, general, grief, joy, loneliness and shame, which are
listed separately. See also books on feelings-general,
and Issues on Feelings. Book: Moustakas,
Clark, Loneliness & Love, Prentice Hall, 1972.
Feeling Lonely? Genes Might Be to
Natural Ways to Beat the Blues
Feeling Lonely? Genes
Might Be to Blame
Research suggests that the degree of loneliness that any two people feel in a particular situation may vary widely, partly because of genetics. In fact, loneliness is half inherited, half environmental, says John Cacioppo, director of the University of Chicago's Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience.
n his recent book "Loneliness," with co-author William Patrick, Cacioppo defines loneliness in terms of the need for social connection and notes that a person can feel lonely even in a large crowd. At any given time, about 60 million people in the U.S. feel so isolated that it's a major source of unhappiness, the book says.
"Loneliness we see to be much more like hunger, thirst and pain than a personality factor per se," Cacioppo told CNN. "It's something everybody has, everybody has the capacity to feel that way, and it serves to call attention to a real biological need."
Using data from more than 8,000 people in twin studies and sibling studies, in collaboration with the Netherlands Twin Register, Cacioppo and colleagues found strong evidence that genetics accounts for about half of the differences in loneliness among people in the study.
Still, there's no way to tell how much of a particular person's loneliness is due to genetics, said Mark Leary, professor at Duke University who runs the psychology department's Self, Emotion and Behavior Lab.
Part of the explanation for loneliness is evolutionary, experts say. Humans would not survive in the wild alone -- imagine trying to fend off a wild beast with a stick by yourself -- so they feel a negative signal when they are disconnected from others, Cacioppo said.
Variation in loneliness among people also has an explanation in evolutionary biology. If everyone had a high sensitivity to loneliness, no one would go out and explore. But if everyone had a low sensitivity to social disconnection, no one would stay back, take care of others, and help those in need, even at personal expense.
"The gene pool is really protected best by variability along that dimension," Cacioppo said.
Not everyone is certain about this hypothesis. Ken Rubin, professor of human development at the University of Maryland in College Park, says loneliness has developmental, but not necessarily genetic, origins. Some individuals are at greater risk than others for feelings of loneliness because of development issues -- for example, shy children who are excluded or rejected by other children, he said.
Other factors involved in loneliness include individuals' levels of social skill, fear of rejection, and self-confidence, Leary said. Also, extroverts are more likely to form social connections than introverts, he said.
Recent research suggests that non-lonely people tend to marry non-lonely people and lonely people tend to marry lonely people, Cacioppo said.
What About Nostalgia?
A recent study published in the journal Psychological Science shows that nostalgia can actually counteract the negative aspects of loneliness, such as low social support.
Researchers at the University of Southampton and China's Sun Yat-Sen University looked at children, college students and factory workers. Subjects answered questions about feelings of loneliness, social support and nostalgia.
The researchers found that while loneliness makes people feel they have low social support, nostalgia increases the amount of social support they feel that they have, helping to buffer the negative effects of loneliness at a particular moment in time.
The researchers have not looked at what repeated engagement in nostalgia might to do to someone's loneliness across time, said co-author Xinyue Zhou of Sun Yat-Sen University in an e-mail. But they are planning to investigate how this might be used in therapy -- for example, a simple exercise such as "asking people to list some keywords that capture the gist of a nostalgic experience" may have a positive impact, Zhou said.
While the study clearly shows that nostalgia makes people less lonely by reminding them of their social relationships, this principle may not work for everyone, said Leary, who was not involved with the research.
"Imagine an ex-convict who, before getting into trouble with the law, had strong family ties and good friendships, but is now ostracized, alone, and unemployed. My hunch is that nostalgic memories might make such a person even more lonely," he said. "Future research should look at possible exceptions to the general pattern that they obtained."
What to do About Loneliness
People who are chronically lonely tend to want to avoid others, Cacioppo said. To cope, he first recommends participating in something such as community service -- working at a soup kitchen, for example, would show a socially disconnected person that others can be kind in their expressions of gratitude.
He also recommends developing an action plan -- don't go over the top with your goals, and realize it will take patience. "Relationships are positive because both parties are getting something out of it," he said. Also, while the old adage says opposites attracts, similarity -- attitudes, interests, and personalities -- is a strong foundation for building lasting bonds.
Finally, expect the best, he said. Both in friendships and in marriages, trust, honesty and forgiveness are key. A common misconception is that the most popular person is the least lonely, he said.
"It's really having one good relationship is all that it takes,"
Cacioppo said. "Spending all your time online getting 4,000 friends
on Facebook is not useful. The number is not where connection
Natural Ways to Beat the Blues
Valerian root is most commonly used as a sleep aid, but some people have found it helps with anxiety and mood as well. Udewitz hasn't seen solid scientific evidence that it helps, but does have patients who have tried it and seemed to have benefited from it. A review article in 'American Family Physician' (published by the American Academy of Family Physicians) reached a similar conclusion.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
A registered therapist can use this type of "talk therapy" to help you understand your own patterns of thought, Udewitz says. "We pay attention to the language going on in your mind to see how you judge yourself and your perceived lack of ability to change anything in your life," he says. The goal is to become empowered to stop the negative thoughts and make the appropriate changes.
It's true that there is strength in numbers -- especially when you're trying to work through difficult issues. "Many people feel alone in their experiences and a group gives a sense of belonging," Udewitz says. Group therapy is especially helpful for things like social anxiety (which often goes along with depression) because it gives you practice talking in a group setting.
"I definitely recommend exercise and probably talk about it in every session," Udewitz says. Not only does exercise release endorphins -- natural "feel good" chemicals -- it also gets you focused on goal setting. Udewitz is a big fan of running, but counsels that people should do whatever form of exercise feels good to them -- and one they'll stick with.
Rework Your Diet
When you eat a healthy diet, you feel better physically and mentally. "Balance is really key," Udewitz says, especially since it's easy to use food as an emotional crutch, or on the other end of the spectrum, to restrict yourself too much. The recipe is relatively simple: keep processed, fried, and high-sugar foods and drinks to a minimum while focusing on whole grains, lean proteins and vegetables. It's also a good idea to avoid stimulants (like caffeine) if you're prone to anxiety.
Biofeedback machines measure physiological functions (like temperature and heart rate). It gives you information about your body (sometimes while introducing stressors) so that you can see how you are responding physically to a stress. "You can learn to regulate your physiology through breathing and quieting the mind," Udewitz says. Many psychologists (including Udewitz) use biofeedback as part of therapy.
St. John's Wort
St. John's Wort is a yellow flowering plant that many people take to aid their depression. According to National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (run by the National Institutes of Health), there is conflicting evidence on whether or not St. John's Wort can relieve symptoms of depression. However, keep in mind that even traditional prescription anti-depressants don't work all the time either. If you're interested in trying St. John's Wort (or any herbal supplement), always consult your doctor first, because it can interfere with other medications (including birth control pills and blood thinners).
Udewitz often recommends meditation to his clients, so that they learn to develop the ability to just be with themselves and their thoughts. Everyone meditates differently. Some people chant a mantra and try to focus; others just let their mind go blank and let thoughts wander in and out of their brain. A good way to get started: Focus on tracing the path of your breath.
Engage in a Hobby
"It's really important to do something you enjoy every day," Udewitz says. We already know that hobbies like knitting can help reduce the stress response; other hobbies -- especially ones that involve working with your hands, like sewing, cooking, woodworking or gardening -- can have similar calming responses. Leisure activities can help pull you out of your funk because you're forced to focus on something outside yourself.
S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAMe, usually pronounced "sammy") is
another supplement many believe helps alleviate depression. The U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services examined 47 studies on SAMe
and depression and found that 28 of them suggested that taking SAMe
decreased the symptoms of depression.