Reduce Loneliness with Mindfulness
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“The practice of mindfulness is an invitation to pay attention to the present moment with kindness and curiosity. This means dropping all of the judgments that we have about loneliness and acknowledging the way things are right now. It’s only from this gentle place of acceptance that loneliness can loosen its tight grip.” – Christi-an Slomka
Humans are social animals. We are generally happiest when we’re with family and friends. Conversely, being without close social contact makes us miserable. It’s the close relationship that is so important as we can be around people all day at work and still feel deep loneliness. These contacts are frequently superficial and do not satisfy our deepest need. It is sometimes said that we live in “the age of loneliness.” It is estimated that 20% of Americans suffer from persistent loneliness. This even when we are more connected than ever with the internet, text messaging, social media, etc. But these create the kinds of superficial contacts that we think should be satisfying, but are generally not. This has led to the counterintuitive findings that young adults, 18-34, have greater concerns with loneliness than the elderly.
The consequences of loneliness are dire. It has been estimated that being socially isolated increases mortality by 14%. Even worse, for people over 60, loneliness increases their risk of death by 45%. When a spouse loses a marital partner there’s a 30% increase in mortality in the 6-months following the death. Hence, loneliness is not only an uncomfortable and unhappy state, but it is also a threat to health and longevity. It is clear that this epidemic of loneliness needs to be addressed.
A potential antidote to loneliness is mindfulness which has been shown to reduce loneliness. In today’s Research News article “Can Mindfulness Help to Alleviate Loneliness? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7947335/ ) Teoh and colleagues review, summarize and perform a meta-analysis of the published randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of the effectiveness of mindfulness to counteract loneliness. They identified 7 RCTs that included a total of 815 participants.
They report that the published randomized controlled trials (RCTs) found that mindfulness or compassion training of 8 weeks or longer produced significant reductions in loneliness. The reductions appeared to be larger in younger participants. The majority of the studies, however, used wait-list controls with no intervention while the mindfulness training occurred in group sessions. It is possible that meeting as a group was the reason for the decrease in loneliness rather than the mindfulness training. Obviously, more research is necessary with better active control conditions occurring in a group setting before definitive conclusions can be reached.
“Loneliness is on the rise, despite our interconnected world, but mindfulness training offers a practical intervention for anybody who wishes to decrease their feelings of loneliness and experience greater social connection.” – Christian Rigg
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Teoh, S. L., Letchumanan, V., & Lee, L. H. (2021). Can Mindfulness Help to Alleviate Loneliness? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Frontiers in psychology, 12, 633319. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.633319
Objective: Mindfulness-based intervention (MBI) has been proposed to alleviate loneliness and improve social connectedness. Several randomized controlled trials (RCTs) have been conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of MBI. This study aimed to critically evaluate and determine the effectiveness and safety of MBI in alleviating the feeling of loneliness.
Methods: We searched Medline, Embase, PsycInfo, Cochrane CENTRAL, and AMED for publications from inception to May 2020. We included RCTs with human subjects who were enrolled in MBI with loneliness as an outcome. The quality of evidence was assessed using Cochrane’s Risk of Bias (ROB) tool and Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development, and Evaluation (GRADE). A random-effects model was used for meta-analysis.
Results: Out of 92 articles identified, eight studies involving 815 participants were included in this study. Most (7/8) trials conducted a minimum of 8 weeks of MBI. Most of the trials (5/8) used UCLA-Loneliness Scale. A pooled analysis combining three trials and compared with wait-list showed significant improvement in loneliness score reduction using the UCLA-R scale with MD of −6.33 [95% confidence interval (CI): −9.39, −3.26]. Subgroup analysis with only two Cognitively-Based Compassion Training (CBCT) trials also showed similar MD of −6.05 (95% CI: −9.53, 2.58). The overall quality of evidence (GRADE) was low.
Conclusions: Mindfulness intervention with an average length of 8-week duration significantly improved the population’s loneliness level with no mental health issue. However, this evidence had a low GRADE level.