How to reduce loneliness, according to science

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Free time is sometimes idealized, but research shows free time can sometimes be unhealthy by increasing loneliness.

Scientists from Penn State and elsewhere found that engaging in meaningful, challenging activities during free time can reduce people’s loneliness and increase their positive feelings.

They found that people who had meaningful, challenging experiences were less lonely—even when higher levels of social contact and support were not available.

The research is published in Leisure Sciences and was conducted by John Dattilo et al.

Loneliness touches people of all ages, from children to young adults to older adults.

The COVID-19 pandemic, which caused many people to alter their social behavior to prevent the spread of the disease, exacerbated the problem of loneliness around the world.

In the study, the researchers explored loneliness among international university students in Taiwan.

Prior research has shown that loneliness among international university students is common around the world.

International students are removed from their social networks and live in a different culture, often one that speaks a different language.

Additionally, the researchers identified that the online social opportunities that became available during the pandemic may be less accessible to international students because of language and cultural differences.

According to the researchers, reduced loneliness is associated with engaging in enjoyable activities that require both concentration and skill.

For people to achieve a state of flow, an activity must require a good deal of their skill but not be so difficult that it seems impossible. Additionally, it must demand concentration to execute and be meaningful to the participant.

Artistic endeavors like playing the piano or painting can induce flow. So can physical activities like skiing or chopping wood, along with mental tasks like writing or storytelling.

What induces flow differs from person to person based on individual skills and values.

People with extensive free time—like college students who are locked down during a pandemic or people who live in a nursing home—can achieve flow when they engage in activities they find to be meaningful.

In this way, time passes quickly for them, their life has meaning, and their experience of loneliness is reduced.

Helping people achieve flow can reduce loneliness in situations where social support is insufficient. More importantly, it can reduce loneliness for people in any situation.

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If you care about mental health, please read studies that people with these mental problems are less likely to get COVID-19, and eating too much sugar may drive these mental problems.

For more information about mental health, please see recent studies about how ketamine prevents depression, and results showing doing this can reduce depression relapse.

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