Is loneliness healthy
Signs that you are chronically lonely
You can count the really good friends on one hand - and many people can't even do that. About collective loneliness, the consequences for our health and how we find each other again.
Stressed city dwellers take refuge in the silent retreat to find peace. Our food is on the supermarket shelf in ever smaller packaging sizes because the number of single households is growing. We send each other text messages instead of making a phone call, googling addresses instead of asking someone for directions, and are annoyed when someone comes unannounced at the door. The people from our parents 'and grandparents' generation still sat together at the kitchen table to chat or play cards - we sit alone in front of our cell phones and take the perfect selfie.
It is obvious that all of this has an impact on society. We sell ourselves being alone as a new, desirable attitude to life and celebrate silence until it catches up with us again in the form of illness. That is when it dawns on us that smartphones and the digital community cannot replace real closeness. And that often happens very late.
A brain researcher explains what loneliness really is
Loneliness makes the body and mind sick. Those who are lonely are more likely to suffer from cancer, depression, and dementia; the risk of heart attack and stroke increases. Scientists speak of an epidemic worse than obesity, high blood pressure and dementia. According to New York Times An entire generation is threatened with lonely death in Japan. Manfred Spitzer, Head of the Psychiatric University Clinic in Ulm and the Transfer Center for Neuroscience and Learning, is one of the most important German brain researchers and describes loneliness as a painful, contagious and even fatal megatrend. We asked him how we can find each other again.
How would you define the feeling of loneliness?
Manfred Spitzer: Everyone knows the feeling when you are involuntarily alone. It's like a toothache or a headache, you don't have to define it; it happens to everyone in the course of life. Social isolation comes over you, you can't help it. Whether the partner dies, someone falls ill or the children move out: the reasons are varied. The point is to distinguish between chronic and acute conditions. Pain has a positive meaning because it shows us that something is wrong with our body. It is the same with loneliness: When we feel acutely lonely, we are kinder to others, we go out more to counteract it. However, this acute feeling can also become chronic.
We have to stop doing everything alone or with the smartphone. These many little interactions between strangers are the glue that holds our society together.
What is chronic loneliness?
The chronic feeling of loneliness is no longer useful for going out, but rather makes you feel uncomfortable. If you start to think "The others don't want anything from me anyway" and a permanent feeling of loneliness develops, it can be harmful.
Then what happens to us?
The health consequences of chronic loneliness take a long time to develop. However, it is known that loneliness is a greater risk factor for an early death than obesity, smoking, alcoholism or unsportsmanlike conduct. Ultimately, loneliness is an existential insecurity: If I have no one who I could ring at three at night and ask if I could sleep with them because I’m not feeling well, I’m insecure, because then I’d be in a very bad way. This subliminal uncertainty has been shown to cause an increased stress hormone level in the blood. And if this stress then persists for years, it can lead to high blood pressure, a rise in blood sugar levels, cardiovascular problems and strokes - you die earlier. Avoiding chronic loneliness is at least as important as eating healthy and exercising. One should make that clear to oneself.
Can you take countermeasures?
Large-scale studies have shown that voluntary work decisively increases one's own well-being and significantly reduces stress. Those who are lonely often feel useless or as if they are just getting on everyone's nerves. But if I volunteer and give food to other people who really need it, I certainly don't get on their nerves. It helps to get around people again and thus break this vicious circle that exists with chronic loneliness.
Are there any socio-political measures that could prevent loneliness?
We could stop building old people's homes and kindergartens and instead build multigenerational houses in which different generations spend more time together. That would be good for both of you. The more lonely and socially isolated people are, the less trust they have in one another. This has a negative effect on the overall condition.
How do you strengthen interpersonal trust?
With the little things; not only do online banking, for example, but keep the possibility open of going somewhere. I don't mean that as flatly as it sounds. We have to stop doing everything alone or with the smartphone. These many little interactions between strangers are the glue that holds our society together because they make us feel like there is someone to rely on. But if I don't have any social contact where I could have had one, I lose trust in my fellow human beings because I rarely meet anyone and I don't seem to need them anyway. This is what undermines our social coexistence in the long term. And when you understand that, you also know how treacherous the new technology is: It seems to make life easier, but it kills us in the long term.
Are the so-called social media a solution?
No, they are one of the main problems. The media-driven narcissism, the selfie, your own profile, which is particularly pimped up, and the smartphone that keeps telling us where the party is even better: this constantly tempts us to inflate ourselves and tells us at the same time how miserable our existence is in contrast to all the great things happening there. If you put that together, then these technical innovations are massively responsible for the trend towards loneliness and the actual feeling of loneliness. Two people sitting opposite each other and doing something together is a completely different quality than when everyone does something alone. Because we are not exactly when we sit in front of the screen. It has a terrible effect on our feelings.
But many people want to live alone and choose when to have company.
I think people will soon find out that they won't be happy with it. The immediacy is what defines the community. It is not a product that can be consumed. If you only ever see everything with consumer glasses, contacts and other people are only consumed. But people are not there to consume, they need to be with one another. And this togetherness needs a certain depth, because otherwise you get very lonely.
So should we largely do without technology?
No, but we should think about what technological advances will bring us. When the car came up, nobody thought that we would get fatter in the long term because we move less and therefore die earlier. But that's true for millions of people today. We drive maybe an hour a day, but young people between the ages of 13 and 18 spend nine hours a day in front of the screen with media. And if you realize the temporal dimension, you can also see that there is one thing that this certainly cannot have: no consequences.
READING RECOMMENDATION: Loneliness - Manfred Spitzer's unrecognized illness. Droemer Knaur, for € 20.6 0.
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