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Mindful : December 2018
Not surprisingly, loneliness has been shown to lead to overall negative health outcomes. In a frequently cited ar ticle on social isolation and health, published in Perspectives in Biology and Medicine in 2013, John Cacioppo and Louise Hawkley repor ted on studies showing that socially isolated young adults “rated everyday events as more intensely stressful.” They coped with stressors passively rather than directly (“suppressing emotion” in lay terms), a risk factor for high blood pressure, and their isolation contributed to slower wound healing and poorer sleep. Subsequent studies have continued to show negative effects of social isolation, including a 2017 meta-anal- ysis by Adnan Bashir Bhatti and Anwar ul Haq, published in Cureus, that indicated a connection between isolation and illness in a variety of sys- tems: “cardiovascular, inflam- matory, neuroendocrine, cognitive, and affective.” And yet, many research- ers point to the benefits of solitude. There is a key difference, however, between social isolation and solitude. Isolation is usually forced on us, whereas solitude is a choice. In The Handbook of Soli- tude (2014), developmental psychologist Kenneth Rubin, of the University of Maryland, lists four conditions required for solitude to be beneficial: • you are spending time alone voluntarily • you are capable of regulating emotion • you are able and willing to join a social group • you can also have good relationships outside of that group. In the same handbook, Jack Fong, a sociologist at Cal State Polytechnic, con- tends that alone time has a Isolation vs. Solitude What research suggests about the boundary between healthy alone-time and harmful loneliness. key role to play in transcend- ing social crises: By getting to know who we are, we can counteract the forces that want to shape us into who we are not. More recently, four stud- ies from Thuy-vy Nguyen, Richard Ryan, and Edward Deci, from the University of Rochester, published in 2017 in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, showed that people who deliberately took time alone (away from all devices) experienced increased peacefulness, calm, and relaxation. While some participants felt sad- der, lonelier, or more bored, a greater number felt less anxious and angry. SCIENCE PHOTOGRAPHBYSIMONMONTGOMERY/MILLENNIUMIMAGES,UK 48 mindful December 2018