Mindfulness Training May Help People Feel Less Lonely

Apr 16, 2020

By: Christian Rigg | PsyPost.org

Feeling lonely? You’re not the only one. Feelings of loneliness, as well as an actual lack of social ties, are both on the rise. In fact, despite the fact that we can communicate more easily with loved ones near and far, not to mention an innumerable number of strangers on the Internet, a growing number of people—young adults especially—report increased feelings of loneliness.

Mindfulness training has been shown to increase mental stability and improve overall well being, and is now being studied in relation to loneliness. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science has demonstrated some interesting and encouraging benefits of mindfulness training for reducing feelings of loneliness and increasing daily social interactions.

In the study, 153 adults were randomly assigned a series of smartphone-based lessons that covered both (emotional) monitoring and acceptance, monitoring alone, or an unrelated coping mechanism which served as a control. The study’s authors measured changes in subjective feelings of loneliness as well as actual numbers of social encounters throughout the day.

As predicted, participants assigned to the monitoring and acceptance group felt significantly less lonely following intervention, and benefited from additional social interactions. On the other hand, those who were trained in monitoring alone and those in the control group experienced no significant change in loneliness or the number of daily social interactions. The researchers conclude from this that “acceptance training appears to be a central mechanism of mindfulness interventions for mitigating loneliness and social isolation.”

“Loneliness and social isolation are among the most robust known risk factors for poor health and early death. But so far, few interventions have been effective for reducing loneliness and increasing social contact,” says Emily Lindsay, who led the study as a PhD student and is now a research scientist at the University of Pittsburgh.

“Our research shows that a 14-day smartphone-based mindfulness program can target both, and that practice in welcoming and opening to all of our inner experiences—good or bad—is the key ingredient for these effects.”

Additional research will be needed to fully understand the psychological mechanisms involved and develop mindfulness exercises that target these. One theory, put forth by the study’s authors, is that “adopting an open and nonreactive attitude (i.e., acceptance) toward these [social interaction] experiences may aid in regulating emotions, thus reducing perceptions of social threat.” For this to be true, perceptions of social threat would need to be causally related to loneliness, offering an avenue of research for future studies.

Additionally, future research will benefit from testing mindfulness training on specifically vulnerable communities. However, the authors note that even the randomly selected participants all experienced significant loneliness, reflecting “the epidemiology of loneliness … that is increasing in the United States.”

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.

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