When you feel lonely, it's hard to get past the sadness and pain that comes with it. But feeling lonely is actually perfectly healthy. It's your mind's way of telling you it's time to make a change. Photo by Norbert Eder.
Over at Vox, Brian Resnick spoke with Maike Luhmann at the University of Cologne about loneliness and its effects on people. Luhmann explains that loneliness feels like it hurts so much because, well, it actually does. Our brains experience social pain a lot like physical pain. But that pain is a good thing, argues Luhmann:
It signals that we need to do something about our social connections. This is a sign from our psychological systems that there's something off.
When you feel lonely, it's simply means you crave social interaction, and that you should reconnect with people. It can be detrimental, however, if your loneliness becomes chronic. Luhmann says that disregarding the loneliness signal can lead to adverse health effects. And over time, it can become harder and harder to connect with people. So it's important you recognise your loneliness as a signal, not just a state of mind that makes you feel bad. Just like hunger or thirst, loneliness needs to be tended to.
That said, it's important to note that being alone isn't the same as feeling lonely. Everyone's need for social connections is different. Don't worry about what other people need and focus on what's best for you.
Why we need loneliness [Vox]