Who is to say that someone else is lonely? No one, because that can only be determined by the person who feels it. C an we measure loneliness ? No, as yet there is no definitive measurement of it. Does one gender experience loneliness more than the other? Again, we do not have an answer . Are we lonelier today than yesteryear ? Yes, according to social scientists, we can blame the start of today’s loneliness on the Enlightenment (1650 – 1800) because that was when people began to leave close knit, small rural communities to make their fortunes in the cities . With so many questions about the subjective experience of loneliness, here are three questions and answers to ponder.

Why is connection with others a major driver of wellbeing ? Connection, in this sense, means close social bonds with family, friends, or companions with whom we spend quality time as we exercise, read , cook , or play games , etc. While each of us has our own socialization comfort zone and t he frequency of bonding depends upon the needs of the individual, w hat is always necessary to build connections is bond ing regularly with the same person(s) or groups. A weekly trip to an assisted living facility to visit with a different person or set of people each time may make us feel good, but it does not build a strong connection with any one who may desperately crave it . Connecting with one person or the same small group of two to three individuals during those visit s creates a bond comparable to the one people experienced hundreds of years ago before people left their small close – knit communities to strike out alone for the big city. Social scientists point to the emotional loneliness caused by a lack of meaningful contact as a reason that wellbeing suffers. Meaningful contact is what counts because superficial social contact is not enough. Strong connections have the ability to counter the loneliness, depression, and anxiety we all feel at times. With meaningful personal connections, it is easier to pull ourselves out of an emotional slump that if left to itself could become chronic. Healthcare professionals warn that chronic emotional slumps are notorious for giving way to hypertension, heart disease an d crippling emotional distress, so connect and help others to connect to improve and maintain wellbeing .

How can people connect with others in a meaningful way if when they were children no adult modeled how to create trust building relationships ? The lack of s kill to do that does not doom one to loneliness, for as with any skill, it can be learned. We can learn to connect the same way we learn to do something new: we take small steps and practice, practice, practice . Basketball great Michael Jordon said he lear ned one technique at a time and practiced that one technique until he felt completely comfortable with it before learning another one. That method is practical and portable , and it can be applied to acquiring any skill. For example, if you love animals you can learn how to build trusting relationship s with other animal lovers by volunteering at the local animal shelter. People there already have the love of animals in common, and working together for a common and worthy goal brings about a solid connection because they collaborate on every thing that involves helping animals and prospective pet parent s. Look for projects within your community that depend on working with a small group who communicate s frequently and employ s teamwork. The shared goal is enough to dispel most initial social awkwardness , and what you do with others to help the project succeed will combat loneliness for you a win-win situation.

One of the questions gerontologists are frequently asked by a family member who provide s car e for some one demanding constant companionship is, “How can I ease their loneliness without sacrificing my own connections?” It can be overwhelming to try to fill another person’s loneliness gap, especially if other family members expect it of them but do not participate in a care role themselves. In such a case , the gerontologist can help them to set healthy boundaries without alienating others . Perhaps a facilitated family meeting is in order. It is also wise to take advantage of the family’s faith community as faith – based volunteers engage in regular home visits with the care recipient.

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In some cases, specially trained members of the congregation meet weekly with the care giver to encourage an d provide emotional and spiritual support. There are also non-profit organizations that provide peer counseling. Visit the website www.peninsulafamilyservice.org to see what help the folks their offer.

Please let these questions and answers be a springboard t o thought about how to get or keep connected and how to support someone who needs help with combatting loneliness to experience more pleasant days. The fact that chronic loneliness is harmful to physical and emotional health is well documented, and we owe it to ourselves to guard against it just as we guard against any other threat to our wellbeing. When we connect and help get others connected we are doing just what the doctor ordered.

Kathy Faenzi - Head ShotKathy C. Faenzi MA is a Clinical Gerontologist and Senior Care Consultant based in San Mateo, CA.

JC Spicer, M.Ed. is a Freelance Social Science Writer and Developmental Editor based in the U.K.