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What exactly is loneliness? Researchers describe it as a discrepancy between the number and quality of social connections that we want versus what we actually have. Throughout life, it is common for this circle of friends to suffer losses, be substituted and expand. The feeling of loneliness stems from ordinary changes, but that nonetheless are impacting – such as being dismissed, retiring, maternity leave and death of a loved one.

It is also possible to experience loneliness if we feel like we are not engaged in typical activities for our stage of life. Yes, the reasons vary according to group in question – teenagers, elderly, middle aged people – by social conditions – such as low income and lack of access to transport – and health conditions. On top of all these variants, in the last decade, the Internet took on a major role in this process. In spite of functioning as a major tool for those who avoid a social life, according to specialists, the Internet makes people feel even lonelier.

Everyone experiences loneliness from time to time. It should only become a concern when it begins to transform itself into a constant feeling. Chronic states of loneliness lead to health problems such as obesity, sleep disorders, high blood pressure, depression and early death.

To admit feelings of loneliness feels shameful. For lots of people, it’s like saying there’s a behavior defect. Hence the difficulty of treatment. In general, people do not like talking about it. In the book, Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection[1], John Cacioppo and William Patrick explain that there may be a genetic component. Some people, claim the authors, may have “a high sensitivity to feeling the absence of connection”.

This makes sense. People differ in many ways. Regardless of motive – genetic or not –, combating loneliness resides in building a social life, with true connections. And for such, participation and involvement are necessary. A difficult mission for the lonely, who naturally tend to turn inward.

And in this process, it’s important to emphasize volunteering. Helping the next is a wonderful way to cultivate a sense of belonging. It provides the positive contexts for building connections with people who are precisely there waiting for help. So, don’t waste time. Go on Google and begin looking for a volunteering activity. In addition to helping and meeting lots of people, you will also be earning extra years of life. Go for it!

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