Dealing With Loneliness Using Pills, Hugs, Robotic Pets, & More
Keep the blues at bay and feel connected with these 8 cures for loneliness.
Are you lonely? You’re not alone. Plenty of people struggle with feelings of isolation and disconnect, and the issue is especially prevalent in the U.S., U.K., and Japan. Some estimates suggest that 22- to 75-percent of American adults are continuously lonely; others have found that one in 10 deal with loneliness. And you don’t just have to be physically alone, to feel lonely.
Former U.S. surgeon general, Vivek H. Murthy, believes we are suffering through a “loneliness epidemic,” and experts often liken the condition to a disease, describing it as “wide-spread” and “contagious.”
There’s a lot of factors to blame for this global emotional crisis. More of us are living alone, not getting married, or not having kids. Household sizes are shrinking. People are working too much. Social media is fucking with our emotions. The internet is distracting us from going out and interacting with others in real life.
The problem is, loneliness doesn’t just feel bad; it’s actually bad for your health. It can make us get sick by weakening our immune systems, and it increases our chances of developing heart attacks and neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Those who are persistently lonely are 14- to 26-percent more likely to die earlier. Loneliness is worse for you than obesity and as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
They say peak loneliness tends to occur during the holidays when people have high expectations. New Year’s and Valentine’s Day are top on that list. With the latter just around the corner, you might be dreading this year’s impending emotional pain and we’re here to help.
Curing loneliness doesn’t just mean making a bunch of new friends. That probably wouldn’t be a bad idea, but there are other ways you can make yourself feel less depressed and more connected with the world. And we’re not talking about the usual methods, like getting a therapist, joining a club, or starting antidepressants.
There are weirder, more unique ways to battle those demons. From owning battery-operated dogs to attending cuddle parties, here are some unusual quick fixes to turn to the next time you’re feeling lonely.
8 Weird Ways to Deal with Loneliness
Physical touch from another human being makes us happy, releasing the feel-good hormone oxytocin throughout our bodies. Even if it’s a hug from a stranger, the physical connection can have a profound impact on how lonely one is. If you don’t have someone in your life to readily and consistently hug, consider going to a Cuddle Party, because yes, those exists. The first one took place in a tiny New York City apartment in 2004, and it has since spread to 17 countries. Singles, couples, and sometimes even families attend the local cuddles, which are often hosted in people’s living rooms and can cost $10. They’re non-sexual, and might also include spooning, massaging, or puppy piling.
Neuroscientist Stephanie Cacioppo is working on inventing a pill that thwarts loneliness by boosting our neurosteroid levels, which have been shown to help with easing stress and hypervigilance of oneself. Shutting down “the alarm system[s]” in our minds can motivate us to “reconnect rather than withdraw from others,” Cacioppo told the Guardian. The project had originally been a joint effort between Cacioppo and her husband, but he passed away in March 2018. It’ll be years still until the couple’s loneliness pill hits the market. Fortunately, there are some antidepressants that have similar effects on the body.
Robotic pets are not just toys for children beholden to strict parents or unsympathetic landlords. They’re also tools used among senior citizens to bring comfort and deal with loneliness. They’ve been around since the early aughts and Hasbro’s Joy For All Companion Pets is top in the industry. First introduced in 2015 with the choice of three different cats — an orange tabby cat, a creamy white cat, and a silver cat with white mitts — the line now includes a blond dog, similar in look to a Golden Retriever or Yellow Labrador. What’s special about Hasbro’s A.I. animals are the built-in sensors that respond to motion and touch, making the pets interactive and communicative (because they meow and bark). The battery-powered creatures — which cost between $99 to $132 — also have soft, lulling heartbeats. If you’d prefer a more unique fake animal to bond with, there’s also Paro, the fluffy white therapeutic seal that had a cameo in Aziz Ansari’s Master of None. Made in the U.K., the adorable robotic stuffed animal comes in four colors, including pink, and costs more than $6,000.
This one is pretty obvious. It operates on the assumption that you can feel lonely even when you sleep, so by mimicking the physical presence of another person with a pillow, those emotions can be stymied. You can find body pillows in an abundance of shapes, from ruler-straight to those curved like a horse shoe. There are even pillows resembling “boyfriend arms” that are clothed in partial button-down shirts and disappointingly ethnically homogeneous. For those who want to doze off cuddling a carrot, you can find giant produce-shaped pillows on etsy. If you want your body pillow to look closer to the real thing, then check out Mr. Teddyman’s online shop. There you’ll find a range of life-sized human-shaped pillows that are around 5-feet 4-inches tall and cost $50 to ship because they’re so big and heavy. Most are solid colors, but if you want to pay an extra $35, Mr. Teddyman will print a photo of your choice on the face.
One of the few (almost) free loneliness cures on this list, taking a long, hot shower is a great way to manipulate and soothe a lonely spirit. Calming and comforting, they can help wash away negative thoughts and uplift one’s mood. In fact, taking lengthy and frequent showers and baths is a tactic many lonely people already use. A 2012 study from Yale University found that “the lonelier a person is, the more showers and baths they take, the hotter the water, and the longer they stay under the water.”
Here’s yet another health benefit of smoking marijuana: it can make you feel less lonely. The thinking is that by chemically reducing the brain’s response to pain, you can also lessen the emotional pain of rejection or social exclusion. Loneliness is also a symptom of depression which is another thing cannabis has been shown to diminish. Smoking a joint or hitting the bong, however, are not solutions to loneliness. Like showers, they’re just palliatives that relieve the pain without dealing with the cause itself.
Eating dishes you love can evoke memories and thoughts of others, making you feel less lonely. Studies using chicken soup have proved this, although there’s a range to what people consider as comfort food. Researchers at the University of Buffalo found that people also favored baked potatoes, cake, ice cream, kim chi, dumplings, and, in one case, salad. To find out what your favorite comfort food is, meditate on meals that not only tasted good to you, but made you feel good mentally and emotionally when you ate them. Usually these foods will evoke fond memories of moments you shared with other people, and those happy, social feelings can keep loneliness at bay.
Group text messages
In the age of iMessage, group chats are no longer clunky, messy, and full of flaws. It’s now easier than ever to communicate with multiple people at once and keep a conversation going, sometimes without even having to use words because you can now “like” or “haha” text bubbles. Being in a group text is great for dealing with loneliness because it can help you feel connected and less alone. They’re better than just texting one person because you’re more likely to get an immediate, not to mention varied, response. As one writer pointed out, “It truly feels like a conversation — like you’re hanging with pals.”