It can sound strange that in the era of Facebook, Twitter and Youtube we can still feel lonely and isolated, but despite the many social media outlets out there, we all have days when we don’t feel we’re socially connected with anyone. These 10 facts about loneliness you didn’t know will walk you through some insights about sadness and social isolation. Loneliness is more than a temporary feeling, and sometimes it can linger beyond an uneventful Friday night. When it grows, expands and takes over your life, it can lead to anxiety, depression and other health problems.
10. The loneliest place on Earth
If you have days when you can’t wait to finish work and head home, lock the door and just be on your own, you’ll find this place mesmerizing. Point Nemo was discovered in 1992, when satellites allowed us to accurately map coastlines. In the middle of the South Pacific, Point Nemo is the farthest point from any terrestrial place on the map, more exactly 2300 km (1450 mi) away from its “neighboring” islands. The loneliest place on Earth is short on visitors, since it’s fairly difficult to reach, with not much to do, but be lonely.
9. Loneliness or social isolation
Being lonely is not the same with being socially isolation. While the latter is more of a personal choice, the former is a feeling you can’t help having. You can live alone in the woods, far away from people, without ever feeling lonely. At the same time, you can find yourself walking down a busy street or even at a friends’ gathering feeling extremely lonely. Still, social connections are important for your long term health, so you should be nice to your neighbors even if you prefer to live, eat and go to movies on your own.
We’re still in the dark with homesickness, but one thing is for certain: around 70% of people suffer from it when they move away. And it’s not just feeling the blues. It can take the shape of insomnia, nightmares, panic attacks and even withdrawal from the new surroundings. Often dismissed as childish or passing, homesickness can stick around for a long time, and it’s difficult to alleviate, especially with Facebook friends’ photos reminding you you’re not home anymore.
7. The Social Surrogacy Hypothesis
Ever wondered why you tend to turn to TV shows every time you have a fight with your significant other, or you just feel lonely? It appears we turn to fictional characters and situations when we feel low and yearn for social interaction. Lacking meaningful relationships, some turn to TV for a “parasocial” relationship. This happens when we get so invested in our favorite characters’ lives that we start perceiving them as close friends. The lonelier we feel, the stronger our connection with TV characters is, making it more likely to feel satisfied with this kind of one side relationship.
6. The Woolly Mammoth was killed by loneliness
Scientists managed to discover that the last woolly mammoths suffered two major declines in population, leaving only a handful of survivors to inbreed and head for the final decline. Around 300 – 1000 Woolly Mammoths were left stranded on an island off the Russian Cost, with isolation slowly but steadily leading to their extinction.
5. Lonely people see inanimate objects differently
We’re prone to cling to inanimate objects when we’re going trough periods of loneliness, replacing human contact and even socialization with online avatars or dolls. A study even showed that our mood plays a major role in how we see faces. In an experiment carried out by researchers from Dartmouth College, lonely people were more likely to describe photos of morphs as completely human.
4. Electric shock or quarter of an hour of loneliness?
If you’ve been thinking sitting alone in a room without talking to anyone is relaxing, think again. Harvard psychologists showed people with ages between 18 and 77 had difficulties in sitting alone in a room and concentrating on their thoughts. When the subjects were given a button that administered an electric shock, scientists were surprised to see that 67% of men and 25% of women couldn’t stand loneliness any more and preferred to shock themselves so they could feel something at all.
3. Loneliness catches on
You probably didn’t see this coming, but loneliness spreads like a disease. It appears lonely people unintentionally become lonelier by anticipating hurtful events and drifting to social fringes. In turn, they transmit their chronic loneliness to the people around them, falling in a vicious circle from which it is difficult and sometimes impossible to break out on their own.
2. Binging and comfort food
Did you know that even thinking about comfort food can impact your loneliness? If the thought of eating ice cream, doughnuts, brownies and cake when you get off work gets you through the day, you too might be the victim of indulging in comfort food. Researchers at the University of Buffalo carried out a couple of experiments that showed people perform better and concentrate easier if they think about food they love which also comforts them.
1. Lonely brains are wired differently
Two different recent experiments proved that lonely people perceive things differently. Feeling lonely might make you feel colder and gravitate towards warmer food or drinks. As with everything else, these links are believed to be formed in us during infancy, when babies get to associate warmth with social interaction. Similarly, researchers found the brains of lonely people don’t react when shown pictures of other people enjoying themselves. The discovery could help scientists find out more about chronic loneliness and how to tackle it.