Loneliness: “Can be as harmful as 15 cigarettes a day” NOW

Due to the corona crisis, being alone has become the new normal for many people for the time being. Loneliness then quickly lurks. But is it always bad to feel lonely?

“People have a talent for loneliness,” says the philosopher Marjan Slob. She wrote the book The empty sky with the question: How can people feel lonely? And what is the difference to being alone?

In 2019, almost one in ten Dutch people felt lonely at times, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS). According to RIVM research, this number increased enormously during the lockdown: 60 percent would feel a little too lonely.

But for Slob, loneliness is so subjective that it is impossible to capture it in questionnaires. “I can give myself a 7 for feeling lonely. But I don’t know how that compares to others. You can’t know that because the feeling is inside.”

“Being alone is a physical condition. I can also feel very full and rich when I’m alone. “

Marjan Slob, philosopher

Then how should we understand loneliness? Slob argues that loneliness is at its core a feeling of disconnection.

“Alone is a physical state. I can also feel very full and rich when I am alone. At the same time, I can also be lonely when I am with a group of people with whom I have little connection, like when I was high School. I often thought there: What am I doing here? “

Being alone can make you more creative

Loneliness is often not an option, while being alone is often, says Maaike Verhagen, a health scientist at Radboud University Nijmegen.

“We know that periods of being alone can be positive. They can lead to more creativity and also offer space for self-reflection. As long as you know that you have access to people who are important to you when you want,” says Verhagen. .

“Loneliness can also have positive effects because you seek social contact or strengthen existing relationships.”

Maaike Verhagen, health scientist

“But if it is not chosen by oneself, then we talk about social isolation,” says Verhagen. It can become a problem if extended. This can have all sorts of negative physical and mental consequences, such as: B. Anxiety and Depression. “We also know that it can be as harmful as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day or being very overweight.”

How loneliness inspires action

Loneliness is actually a negative emotion that stimulates action, explains Verhagen. “It can therefore also have positive effects because you are looking for social contact or strengthening existing relationships.”

It is important for the health scientist that the stigma of loneliness goes away. “Everyone is lonely from time to time. So it has to be easier to talk about so that the threshold gets lower.”

Philosophy can also provide comfort

Recognizing that loneliness is a deeply human feeling can also offer modest comfort, according to the philosopher Slob.

For example, animals can feel alone but not lonely, Slob says. “Take my dog, she doesn’t like being alone. She wants to end this feeling but can’t think about the loss. Or imagine how it could be otherwise.”

“To feel lonely, you have to be very busy.”

Marjan Slob, philosopher

“To feel lonely, you have to be busy. You have to be able to think about the lack of connection and realize that the situation may be different.”

“It’s the cool, detached comfort of philosophy. When you are lonely, you are connected to humanity. Even if you prefer an arm around you or a buddy, I think comfort is a message for a lot of people.”