Is Loneliness Contagious? It Doesn't Have To Be, As Long As You Do These 5 Things
In today's world, the rates of loneliness and depression seem to be growing bigger and bigger with each passing day. Maybe it has something to do with our habit of constantly scrolling through social media, or our particularly turbulent political climate, but either way, it seems to be a sad reality of life in this day and age. And one of the reasons these feelings of loneliness and disconnection might be on the rise is because loneliness can be contagious. Seriously, research shows it can straight-up spread like a virus within social groups.
One such study, done by researchers at the University of Chicago, the University of California-San Diego, and Harvard University in 2009, showed that, for one thing, "lonely people tend to share their loneliness with others." What's more, the study found, when loneliness is shared or expressed, it can easily spread to, and actually affect the rest of that person's social network, making them feel just as disconnected and out-of-place.
Plus, in case you haven't heard, millennials may be the loneliest age group of all these days, according to the results of a recent survey done by the health insurance company Cigna. So even if you think you're not personally feeling that disconnected these days, chances are, you're likely surrounded by people who do feel lonely, and over time, their emotions could influence your own, if you're not careful.
According to author and holistic lifestyle coach Klay Williams, loneliness and negativity are often contagious because these emotions are expected, sought-after, and, more often than not, an expectation of what one believes they deserve. "We live in a society where our expectations are centered and programmed around the 'other shoe dropping,' pessimism, and negativity," he tells Elite Daily. "Oftentimes, we might find ourselves in winning moments and begin a dialogue with a negative friend, and somehow, by the end of that conversation, [you] begin to wonder, 'Wait, can I really have optimism for my present or future?'"
But we all want, and deserve, positive connections in life. So when you find yourself surrounded by negativity, try implementing a few of these expert tips to keep your emotional well-being intact.
1. Realize When You're Taking On Someone Else's Emotions
According to psychotherapist and writing coach Lisa Hutchison LMHC, "people who are caring and compassionate [tend to] take on too much responsibility." And while it's important to be there for your friends, she says, it's just as important to not overextend yourself, or take someone else's feelings or problems on as your own. Doing this, Hutchison tells Elite Daily, isn't actually helpful to either of you.
"When someone says they are lonely and being negative, it can become a manipulation to take care of them and their problem," she explains. "When you feel pulled in and drained by another person, it is a sign of manipulation."
Do your best not to pick up the bait, Hutchison says. "Instead, empathize with them, saying [something like] 'that sounds difficult for you,'" she suggests.
2. Set Compassionate Boundaries, Even When It's Hard
In all of your relationships, Klay Williams explains, especially with people who are chronically negative and in a space of continual loneliness, it's important to set boundaries by offering support instead of help. "Support says, 'This is how I am able to support you, in a capacity that is healthy and responsible to my well-being,'" he tells Elite Daily.
I know it can be hard to figure out what exactly the difference is between "help" and "support" in this context, so try thinking about it this way: When a friend tells you they're feeling lonely at 3 a.m., you don't have to show up at their house and be their movie buddy. What you can do is offer them emotional support with things like considering whether or not to see a therapist, or you can even set up a coffee-and-movie date for a fun, easy day out.
3. Shift The Conversation To Something Less Negative
A conversation doesn't always have to center around disconnection, even if the person you're talking to is feeling, and expressing, that they're lonely. Like politics at the dinner table, says Williams, or inappropriate cultural jokes at a social gathering, it's up to you to redirect a conversation that's not only uncomfortable, but draining.
Yes, this can definitely be a tricky situation when you have a friend who just keeps on keepin' on about the crush who won't text her back, and how it "obviously" means she'll be alone for eternity. You don't want to hurt her feelings, of course, but still, she's not just venting or airing out her feelings; she's bringing down the entire room.
"A shift in conversation could be, 'I hear you, that's an important point. What was the better part of your day?'" Williams suggests.
4. Set An Example In Your Own Behavior
"Negativity is often a learned behavior, a view that things are always not quite right," Williams tells Elite Daily. "If you, in essence, 'be the change' that you're looking to experience, your energy has the power to create a paradigm shift, especially when you are in a community with others on a consistent basis."
Trying to be positive might just have a really great effect on the people around you and how they feel about themselves — and that sounds pretty lovely, don't you think?
5. Spend Time With Positive People
According to Emily Mendez, M.S., EdS, of OnTheWagon, if you're constantly spending time with negative people, it can definitely affect your own outlook on life. This doesn't necessarily mean you have to drop the friends who tend to bring you down more often than not, but it does mean looking out for your own well-being by balancing out the time you spend with the lonelier friends, and the more positive ones.
"It's best to try to limit your time and interactions with [negative people], and seek to spend time with people who are positive instead," Mendez tells Elite Daily. There's room for everyone in your social circle, and really, you're doing everyone a favor by balancing these things out so you can be the best possible friend to each and every person in your squad.