When I read Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City two summers ago, I was struck by how strongly I related to Laing’s concept that one can find themselves feeling remarkably lonely even when constantly surrounded by other bodies, which I was experiencing living in New York City.
I was in college, working a part time job, and I had friends who I went to bars and brunches with, yet I still found myself feeling profoundly lonely. According to a recent Cigna study of over 20,000 adults in the U.S., I wasn’t alone in my loneliness—the loneliest age group in the U.S. is made up of people who are between the ages of 18 and 20, with a loneliness score of 48 while those between the ages of 23 and 37 followed behind at 45 percent.
When looking at feelings that are not associated with being lonely, people ages 72 years old or older surveyed were most likely to feel in tune with others, feel close to other people, and feel like there are people they can both turn to and talk to. Comparatively, feeling like people around them are not really with them, feeling shy, and feeling like no one really knows them well are among the most common feelings experienced by adults ages 18-22.
The Unlonely Project is meant to raise awareness of the detrimental impacts of loneliness and decrease embarrassment and stigma. Chronic loneliness has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
It’s crucial to point out that just as a person can be in a room filled with others and feel lonely, one can also spend time alone without being a lonely person. The study suggests that the number of interactions a person has with individuals doesn’t influence loneliness as much as the quality of the interactions and the bonds a person shares with those individuals. Taking a lecture with 200 other people in the room will not necessarily decrease one’s loneliness, but sharing a meal with loved ones on a regular basis is likely to. Increasing the number of meaningful social interactions one has is a powerful way to combat loneliness.
One way to increase the number of meaningful interactions one has each day is by joining clubs or activities. Attending Meetup groups or starting a book club are a couple of ways you can incorporate in-depth interactions into your routine.
Engaging in the creative arts is also a great way to quash loneliness. Taking art classes or learning to play an instrument are awesome ways to meet others who have a shared interest or who share a common experience.
Having an adequate work-life balance is also extremely important. Though the ideal amount of hours worked varies from career to career, working enough hours to bond with coworkers and having enough free time to maintain personal relationships are crucial. People who said they worked the right amount had the lowest loneliness score compared to those who said they worked more or less than desired.
Kayla Heisler is an essayist and Pushcart Prize nominated poet. She is a contributing writer for Color My Bubble. Her work appears in New York's Best Emerging Poets anthology.