Let’s Not Leave Loneliness Alone

By Paige Zuckerman, Clinical Director

This month some of us may elect to observe the ever-contentious Hallmark holiday of Valentines. Still others may opt out for social, personal, historical or political reasons… or all of the above. Whatever your stance on the commodification of romantic love, there is more to the psychological impact of intimacy and isolation than a single day in February (and an assortment of toothpaste-filled candies in a heart shaped box) can address.

The larger social dialogues on love and romanticism have been shifting dramatically. This has been readily apparent throughout the past few decades as we have adopted new norms within the smartphone world. The Psychology of love has been a hot science for some time now; from the early social psychologists to Kinsey to the stacks of pop-psych books shelved and gathering dust in homes and libraries. Podcasts are obsessing over it, movies always have… pop music is entirely about it. But what do we know today about intimacy, love, attachment and the human need for connection? Many of us would perhaps offer nothing more than a shrug and eye roll at the question.

The desire, even need to be loved and to give one’s love is one of the ‘biggies’ that bring people to the therapy sofa/chair/chaise/pick-your-preferred-seating. Whether it’s romantic love, sexual intimacy, emotional intimacy, familial, platonic or the many other iterations, some manner of love is actually a need for most (if not all, based on other identity factors) of us.

Recent research on the phenomenon of ‘skin hunger’ caught my fascination some time ago. The notion (and reality) that lack of touch could lead to significantly deteriorated health outcomes strikes me as a powerful testament to the need for loving connection. Even if you don’t particularly adore being touched by other people in most social scenarios, the contact with a pet, trained and licensed massage therapist or body worker can be essential to your mental and physical well being. Have you ever felt like all you needed was someone to hold your hand or hug you in order to find some sense of release or relief? Maybe you’ve felt skin hunger.

There’s a decent amount of buzz lately about millennials being the ‘loneliness generation.’ I tend to think it’s beyond one generational scope, especially as that article implies. However, loneliness is linked soundly to poorer health over the lifespan and across all domains. There’s something serious and salient to the need to overcome isolation. There’s deepening evidence of the loneliness and addiction epidemics being profoundly adjacent concerns, a further testament to the need for connection.

If you’re experiencing a mid-winter slump in social connectedness, maybe it’s time to ‘find your tribe.’ Join a group, a book club, visit the dog park, do your work at a hip and bustling local coffee shop, visit an animal shelter and connect with some other creatures working on managing isolation, take a cooking class at one of our local grocers. The big “V-Day” doesn’t have to be a dreaded reminder of loneliness, it can be a wake-up call to re-engage with the world, just as the winter wanes, the sunlight creeps through and the thaw begins. Your health, and your life, will thank you for it.


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