Loneliness and lack of social relationships are one of the main reasons for poor health or accelerated mortality. Feeling alone and social isolation are widespread among the population, therefore it is a significant public health concern.
Moreover, mindfulness interventions which train intrapersonal skills in monitoring present-moment experiences with an orientation of acceptance can improve the social-relationship processes. These mindfulness interventions may reduce loneliness, improve both communication and relationship satisfaction, and foster compassion toward others.
Acceptance-skills training offered in mindfulness interventions can reduce social threats and obstacles that hinder social engagement such as distress, avoidance, negative biases, or social anxiety. Therefore, they help people learn to be equanimous with difficult feelings of loneliness or social disconnect.
A study by Lindsay et al. 2019, aimed to test the hypothesis that learning acceptance skills in mindfulness interventions are a central mechanism for combating loneliness and social isolation. In this trial, 153 community adults were randomly assigned to a 14-lesson smartphone-based intervention. The first group was trained in both monitoring and acceptance, the second was trained in monitoring only, whereas the third was an active control training.
The two-week smartphone-based mindfulness training provided intrapersonal skills but not social contact. These smartphone trainings eliminated the influence of social factors common to standardized group-based mindfulness interventions, and reduced loneliness, as well as increased social interactions in daily life, compared to the active control program. Moreover, the group participants' trained in both attention-monitoring and acceptance, from reintervention to postintervention, reported having approximately two more interactions each day and interacting with one more person each day. They also felt a 22% reduction in loneliness.
Monitoring social interactions and bringing greater awareness may increase attentiveness to social cues and one’s own emotional reactions to them. For example, while adopting an open and nonreactive attitude such as acceptance toward these experiences may aid in regulating emotions, thus reducing perceptions of social threat. Moreover, monitoring uncomfortable feelings of loneliness while maintaining an impersonal and nonevaluative attitude can allow lonely feelings to dissipate.
However, further research is required in order to understand the process in detail. For example, mindfulness may regulate the distress associated with loneliness which reduces social threats and inspires people to seek more social interactions. Or mindfulness may interact with feelings of loneliness to motivate greater social engagement, which then reduces loneliness.
Source: Mindfulness training reduces loneliness and increases social contact in a randomized controlled trial.
Lindsay et al. 2019.