Feeling alone may literally shorten your life. In her new book, Growing Young, Marta Zaraska shares some less-known ways to address the problem.
“In the Western world, as many as 1 in 5 people experiences loneliness. It hurts as much as physical pain does,” writes Marta Zaraska in her new book Growing Young: How Friendship, Optimism and Kindness Can Help You Live to 100 (Penguin Random House, 2020).
Zaraska is a Polish-Canadian science journalist whose previous work has included the book Meathooked: The History and Science of Our 2.5-Million-Year Obsession With Meat. Her work has appeared in New Scientist, Discover and the Atlantic, among others.
In her new book, she approaches the subject of longevity from a fresh perspective, with less of mainstream media’s obsession for popping vitamins and blending kale, and more encouragement for hugging, volunteering, and building your social connections. Having a social network, she suggests, is actually the key to having a long and healthy life. In the chapter “The Gnawing Parasite of Loneliness,” she shares some of the more unusual ways people can address feeling alone.
- Warm up. There is a connection between social relationships and physical warmth. “The key lies in the insula, a small, pyramid-shaped structure deep within the cerebral cortex that is important for how we perceive temperature and how we perceive others,” she explains. If you’re feeling lonely, try playing with temperature by taking a warm, steamy shower, or enjoying a hot beverage like tea or hot chocolate.
- Magic ’shrooms. “In one experiment conducted in Switzerland and published in the journal of the National Academy of Sciences, after taking psilocybin, an active compound of magic mushrooms, volunteers reported feeling less socially excluded,” she writes. “According to one of the study’s authors, psilocybin might have real potential for the treatment of severe loneliness.” Magic mushrooms have been decriminalized in Denver, as well as in Oakland, California.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy. “To reduce loneliness, you don’t have to jump headfirst into a whirl of partying and networking, and you don’t need to sign up for dozens of dating portals and friendship-making apps.” A professional therapist, can, however, be helpful. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help people stop negative thought habits and redirect them into positive ways. “If you feel lonely, the first step is to realize that this is a biological adaptation and not a sign that something is wrong with you. Stop blaming yourself. Try to change your thought patterns. Think, “Yes, I’m not as social as I’d like to be,” instead of “Everybody hates me.” If breaking that habit on your own is hard, that’s where a therapist can be useful.
For more on Zaraska’s book, visit growingyoungthebook.com.