Why Loneliness Hurts So Much
Affection matters for our mental, physical, and spiritual health.
Posted Apr 28, 2015
Updated 5/29/20. This is a guest blog by psychologist Kory Floyd, a professor of family and interpersonal communication at Arizona State University. His latest book is The Loneliness Cure. You can see his research at koryfloyd.com.
We all feel lonely from time to time. In our fast-paced world, the stress of balancing personal and professional obligations can leave even the most social of us longing for more connection and affection every now and then.
If we’re lucky, loneliness is an occasional annoyance, one quickly dismissed whenever we reconnect with the important people in our lives. When loneliness becomes an everyday experience, however, it brings with it a broad range of problems.
We crave attention
I have long been interested in how people meet their needs for affection and intimacy. Humans are a highly social species. Having close, meaningful relationships is essential to our well-being. When we feel cut off from the people around us, our health suffers. We become more susceptible to anxiety, depression, and anguish. We hurt. We don’t sleep well. We get sick more easily and take longer to recover.
People can cope with loneliness in self-defeating ways. Some turn to alcohol and drugs to ease the burden of feeling unwanted. Others indulge in food, or become obsessed with gambling. Still others seek anonymous sexual hookups. Whatever the strategy, each tries to fill the void that comes with being deprived of meaningful connection.
Instead of these counterproductive ways, how can people form and maintain meaningful connections? An effective remedy is to communicate affection. When we kiss, hug, hold hands, and tell people that we love them we strengthen the bonds that are essential for our social needs.
Just as loneliness harms one’s health, being affectionate strengthens it. It helps us manage stress. When stressed, even brief hugs or kisses can help us calm down, regain perspective, and feel ready to tackle the problems that face us. If we are fortunate enough to have robust, affectionate relationships in our lives, then we are less likely to overreact to stressful events wherever we encounter them.
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