Loneliness has become a widespread social epidemic, with young people perhaps suffering the most from its impacts on cognitive development.

SeekerPublished: July 10, 2018
Published: July 10, 2018

Cigna, a health insurance provider, recently released a study revealing that 18-22 year olds have the highest "loneliness score," followed by millennials, and Generation X. Defined as a "state of solitude or being alone" and an "inability to find meaning in one's life," loneliness has been cited as result of a lack of in-person social interactions, life imbalance, and poor physical and mental wellness. Many members of Generation Z cited that they feel people around them but feel they aren't really with them, feel shy, or feel like people don't really know them well.

One study broke loneliness down into three subtypes: situation loneliness, developmental loneliness, and internal loneliness. Situation loneliness is characterized by occurrences of unpleasant events that cause people to retract into themselves. Developmental loneliness occurs when an individual is growing and hinders one's capacity to balance individualism and intimacy. Developmental loneliness can be caused by or lead to psychological disorders such as depression or schizophrenia. Finally, internal loneliness occurs when a self-perception of worthlessness intensifies the feeling of being alone.

Research suggests that loneliness impacts our neurophysiology and behavior alike. People who feel lonely often can develop restless sleep patterns, which can in turn can impair cognitive development. A 2009 study revealed that lonelier people showed less activation than normal in brain centers associated with reward and empathy, and other researchers identified that specific neurons in the dorsal raphe nuclei, related to dopamine release, are very sensitive to social isolation. An analysis from 1980 to 2015 found that loneliness and accompanying depression was as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes per day when it came to increasing mortality risk.

Loneliness may be a social epidemic, but remedies do exist. In-person social interactions are by far the best way to combat all three types of loneliness and are arguably as necessary as nutrition and rest for our well-being as humans. Making lifestyle changes to combat loneliness is easier said than done, but it's important to remember that no one is alone in feeling alone.

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