Loneliness is as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day (and who knows about vaping? More and more dangers are becoming evident).
The UK sees loneliness as a health issue of such seriousness, it’s putting money into reducing it.
So, what are the specific implications for people on the autism spectrum, since social skills, connection and attachment issues are part of the Spectrum?
I won't answer that her, but do know there’s lots for all of us to do to increase the quality and quantity of our connections.
Solitude is not the same as loneliness. Solitude is a solitary boat floating in a sea of possible companions.
Negative emotions like loneliness, envy, and guilt have an important role to play in a happy life; they're big, flashing signs that something needs to change.
Anger is a manifestation of a deeper issue... and that, for me, is based on insecurity, self-esteem and loneliness.
Too much self-centered attitude, you see, brings, you see, isolation. Result: loneliness, fear, anger. The extreme self-centered attitude is the source of suffering.
Action Ideas (Ideas to get ya thinkin’. Not medical advice)
There are so many ways to approach this topic. To try to keep it somewhat short means I’ll only be looking at a small slice of ideas.
1. Philosophical change. In the acquiring of experiences vs material possessions, those who prioritize experiences are less likely to feel lonely. My guess is there are many reasons for this, even if the activities are solitary activities. There is the physical movement that increases positive brain chemistry, the anticipation of a new activity, learning new skills, and having more topics in common with others, just to name a few. And that’s incidental to the connections you might meet along the way.
2. Turn-taking. At a talk where Dr. Temple Grandin was speaking, she emphasized how important turn-taking was. She learned it by playing games – like board or card games. This complementary behaviour is also a part of conversing.
3. Conversation. Although turn-taking is very important in conversation, it's not only taking your turn to talk, it’s also about listening to the other person, and taking an interest in what another person says.
One way this can be taught is to create conversations at home that begin with relating a new topic to an already established area of interest but remembering to stay with the new topic. Sometimes it can be easy to get sidetracked to a safe topic.
Another way is to take turns choosing a topic. You can create ground rules, such as a time-limit/person or topic, or as part of turn-taking, before person B speaks, B needs to summarize what person A said.
4. Emotional skills. Before we can empathize with another person, we first need to understand our own feelings. A couple of ways to increase understanding is to read fiction and discuss why people behaved the way they did.
Why do you suppose X hit another person?
He was angry.
What happened that made him angry? If you continue to delve a bit deeper, usually the feeling of anger is based in another emotion, like hurt, fear, or specific to this article, loneliness.
Another way, and one that’s new to me, is to be more attentive to my body, both when I’m stressed/upset/etc and when I’m feeling happy/light-hearted/etc. From what I understand, it gives a truer idea of what’s happening in the brain. It’s been interesting so far, but I’m still a newbie at it.
5. Problem-solving skills. Long ago I remember reading that all of our well-intentioned organized activities, including organized sports, has taken away the opportunity for children to learn how to negotiate and compromise. Free time gives an opportunity for kids to create their own rules. Thankfully, problem-solving is a skill that can be learned. There're many ways to learn problem-solving skills. Pick the one that fits your needs.
6. Commitment to a course of action. If being around too many people is a bit daunting, start with point #1 – focus on experiential. A new experience could be a day hike, a bike ride, geocaching, camping, or a small group scavenger hunt.
Need more ideas? Do an internet search for ‘What to do in (a city you live in or is near to you)’. There’s always a list of new and ongoing activities in that area. Or search for a Meetup group in your area, and meet people who are interested in the same thing you are interested in.
7. Does it feel like a lot of pressure to become more social? View it as eustress – the beneficial stress that helps us to grow and adapt. Another positive stressor is our pressure vests, for those who find that compression calms, increases the ability to focus or energizes.
Have a satisfyingly connected week.
Providing calmness & comfort, learning & laughter,
P.S. In the intro, I used the word ‘connection’ very deliberately. While ‘loneliness’ usually refers to people relationships, other things can reduce the feelings of loneliness - a pet or companion animal, nature, or some projects that connect deeply with you.
But, some people may also re-label loneliness as solitariness. By that I mean, they may say they like to be alone, but the truth is the fear of going out can make being alone appear to be very desirable. Being alone wouldn't be a first choice as much as the least fearful choice.
It’s very important to have options. To be comfortable with yourself and to have deeper connections with a few.
I know this post is going on a bit but one more point - something like 60% of men and 30% of women prefer to have an unpleasant electric shock over sitting alone for 15 minutes! But that’s a whole other topic.
Websites used in this article: