Loneliness increases mortality risk by 26 percent, comparable to health risks of obesity, cigarette smoking, and excessive alcohol use, according to Brigham Young University’s Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Timothy B. Smith, Mark Baker, Tyler Harris, and David Stephenson.
Besides triggering emotional discomfort, loneliness harms people’s health.
Loneliness and social isolation differ.
Some people report feeling lonely in the presence of others, whereas socially isolated people may not report loneliness.
However, both loneliness and social isolation increased risk for mortality in a meta-analysis of more than 3 million participants in studies of loneliness, social isolation, and living alone.
Lonely individuals benefited more from learning to cope with social performance anxiety than from developing social skills, found Franklin & Marshall College’s Megan L. Knowles, Gale M. Lucas of University of Southern California, Florida State University’s Roy Baumeister, and Wendi L. Gardner of Northwestern.
More than 85 volunteers completed a loneliness self-report, then identified emotions expressed on computer-presented faces.
Self-described lonely people out-performed non-lonely people when social sensitivity tasks were described as measures of “academic aptitude.”
However, lonely participants performed worse when tasks were presented as tests of “social aptitude.”
These volunteers also reported difficulty forming and maintaining friendships, suggesting that social anxiety leads to “choking” in social “performance” situations.
The result is continued loneliness.
Lonely people may be more socially competent than the non-lonely: They were more skilled at remembering social information in studies by Northwestern’s Wendi L. Gardner, Cynthia L. Pickett of University of California Davis, and Ohio State University’s Marilynn B. Brewer.
The team assessed social recall by presenting volunteers with a simulated computer chat task that provided brief acceptance or rejection experiences, then a diary containing both social and individual events.
When social anxiety could be reattributed to an external cause , task performance increased.
Volunteers consumed a non-caffeinated energy beverage and learned that any jitters they might experience could be attributed to the “caffeine” they’d just consumed.
This explanation provided a plausible but false rationale for anxious feelings.
Similarly, Harvard’s Alison Wood Brooks found that reframing nervousness as “excitement” helped people perform better on stressful tasks.
An additional coping approach for lonely people is modifying personal mindsets following social loss cues.
Fixed mindset, identified by Stanford’s Carol Dweck, is a belief that personal capabilities are limited to present capacities.
This perspective is similar to security-oriented, prevention-focused behaviors of lonely people observed by University of Southern California’s Lucas with Knowles, Gardner, Daniel C. Molden and Valerie E. Jefferis of Northwestern.
This mindset can lead to fear, anxiety, protectiveness and guardedness.
In contrast, growth mindset is similar to promotion-focused responses like attempts at social engagement.
This developmental mindset holds that personal capabilities can expand based on commitment, effort, practice, instruction, and correcting mistakes.
This view enables teamwork, collaboration, and social interaction.
To demonstrate these effects, Lucas’s group gave volunteers cues of acceptance or rejection.
People who received positive primes were more likely to develop a promotion-focused growth mindset.
These participants also reported more effective social thoughts, intentions, and behaviors.
People who experience social anxiety and loneliness can reduce social avoidance by reframing discomfort as “excitement” and by embracing learning and new experiences in a growth mindset.
-*How do you manage loneliness?
- Are You Excited Yet? Anxiety as Positive “Excitement” to Improve Performance
- Beware of Seeking, Acting on Advice When Anxious, Sad
Gary W. Kelly wrote:
With an elderly population, there are additional confounding variables. Persons who are elderly may have medical conditions or disabilities that cause them to become more isolated, or react to their own self image in an isolating manner. Examples: –a person losing hearing may not understand the hearing loss–and react to the loss as a lack of other people taking an interest, being willing to “speak up” and “not mumble”. That can last a very long time before it is conceptualized as a personal hearing loss. Similarly a loss of vision can make it more difficult to see who is speaking, or identify the speaker. The loss of vision becomes isolating. Members of the public often handle the interactions poorly, reinforcing the isolation. This was documented well back in the 1980s. more than 60% of people who are blind lose vision after age 55–most are women. Reframing may prove difficult without the cooperation of community–which can be problematic.
Basing a therapy on a lie is a poor strategy. It is unethical at best, and can worsen a situation when discovered, as it may well be perceived as manipulative, duping, and counter to the values of the participant. It shows at the very least, that the investigators never understood the phenomena adequately, and did not avail themselves of more appropriate and ethical strategies. One hopes that no larger program is ever attempted using a similar strategy to misleading those who are already socially isolated. *ANY* intervention should start and end with mutual respect, open communication, and a genuine compassion for anyone experiencing social isolation. Show less
Kathryn Welds responded:
Thanks, Gary, for the fine point about the distinction between deception and reframing as a coping mechanism. As you mention, respect, communication, and compassion are foundations for any intervention intended to augment coping.