Alone ≠ Lonely

By: 
Staff Writer Kate Wehlann

Recently, we asked readers through our incredibly scientific poll on salemleader.com about whether they were lonely. A report released by health insurer Cigna showed that more than half of those surveyed indicated they either always or sometimes felt that no one knew them well.

“Research in recent years suggests that for many people, loneliness is more like a chronic ache, affecting their daily lives and sense of well-being,” reads an article on NPR.com about the study.

The story went on to detail the various health consequences of loneliness, based on evidence by Brigham Young University psychologist Julianne Holt-Lunstad and said the Cigna report shows that young people were the hardest hit by loneliness.

This may come as a shock because Generation Z (those born in the mid-1990s to early 2000s) and millennials are considered the ones most tuned in to social media, which is supposed to connect us. We’re supposed to be able to be social with people around the world via newsfeeds from the comfort of our couches. However, it doesn’t seem that social media use itself that’s driving the loneliness. It’s how it’s used.

“If you’re passively using it, if you’re just scrolling feeds, that’s associated with more negative effects,” Holt-Lunstad told NPR. “But if you’re using it to reach out and connect to people to facilitate other kinds of [in-person] interactions, it’s associated with more positive effects.”

I can agree with this to a point, because it's easy to feel lonely when you're watching people do interesting things while you're sitting on the couch. However, as someone who finds in-person interactions far more exhausting than online interaction, I need to make a clarification: Alone doesn’t mean lonely. It’s possible to be quite connected while being the only human in the room and it’s possible to feel very lonely in a room full of people. I’ve been both.

I’m an introvert, which should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone who has known me for at least 20 minutes. However, I work all day in an office environment with people and regularly make my way out into the public to talk with people. When I go home, I’m ready to be home. Me and my dog. I have a core group I see maybe once a week outside of work and CAST and that’s about as much social interaction as I’m wont to experience on the regular. I have friends online I can talk with for much longer periods of time, mainly because it’s not face-to-face interaction. I can turn on the audio chat room and close my eyes and talk with my friends like they’re in my living room without the stress of people who don’t live there actually being in my living room.

I’m also a single, young professional without children, which isn’t exactly a common thing in Washington County, so even if I were extroverted, finding a group of people I share a lot in common with would be tricky because my married/parent peers’ lives look vastly different than mine a lot of the time.
That’s not to say I don’t get lonely or touch-starved, but that socializing needs to be on my terms or short. Simply put, I’m a cat trapped in a human body. I'm not lonely and I'm not the only one like this.

The belief that people who are alone must be lonely and sad is a part of what I didn’t like about the #WalkUpNotOut rallying cry during the student walk-outs earlier this year. Introverted students who were willingly alone were being more or less targeted as school-shooters-in-the-making in need of fixing via befriending. Not great for mental health when you realize the primary reason people are suddenly being nice to you is because they don’t want to be your first target when you inevitably bring an AK-15 to school. Also, it’s not students’ jobs to maintain their peers’ mental health and they shouldn’t feel the need to befriend someone just to be safe in their classrooms, but that’s a story for a different soapbox.

For those who do feel lonely, please reach out. Especially if you’re in the younger generations, you know how to use social media. Put something out there. Use hashtags. Find your interests and scour Tumblr for it. You’ll find your people. For those who don’t use social media, check the paper and talk with local organizations to find out about upcoming events or volunteer opportunities. It can be tough to “break in,” so to speak, in time, you may find a few cracks or you can start your own group. Chances are, you’re not the only one like you and are looking for somewhere to plug in, too.

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