A handful of studies conducted during the last few years have found that loneliness, while certainly not a new concern, is on the rise. One study that surveyed more than 20,000 U.S. adults, revealed that nearly half reported feelings of loneliness.

While there is a distinct difference between loneliness and being alone, as more people are spending time alone, it’s not surprising they are also vacationing on their own. Many solo travellers are embracing the various benefits of these journeys, such as the opportunity to increase their confidence, dive into new experiences, expand social networks and improve decision-making skills.

In response, many resorts and hotels have begun to implement strategies, programming and events that are designed to not only welcome solo explorers but also combat loneliness, such as shared co-working spaces and special sightseeing and adventure tours.

Dr. Ami Rokach, a clinical psychologist and a psychology instructor at York University in Toronto, has dedicated much of his professional career to the study of loneliness. Here, he shares his advice and tips.

Dr. Ami Rokach, illustration by Cristian Fowlie.

Studies show that loneliness is on the rise. What factors are behind this?

One is our culture. In western culture, independence is the most important thing. And actually, as humans, we are wired to need other people. Two is technology. Facebook helps some people deal with loneliness, [but for] many it intensifies loneliness because they see the beautiful pictures people post and they say, “Look at my life, I fall short.”

What are the symptoms?

Loneliness is known to cause people to view themselves negatively. It affects our spirit and our health. Stress—and loneliness causes stress—is known to cause sleep disturbances and to elevate heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol levels creating a state of emergency in the body.

Can travel help people who are lonely?

People who are lonely may look at [travelling] as an opportunity to change their behaviours. They may try things that they [wouldn’t] try [at home], like seeking places where people congregate, smiling at people, engaging in a conversation with the people they meet and making new friends.

How should a person approach the idea of travelling solo?

One way is to see travelling as [an opportunity for] solitude, wanting to be alone, which is actually recharging and nourishing. I enjoy the fact that I can watch a movie or read a book, and I am left alone. Some people grow up knowing how to do that, but, for some people, every time they experience aloneness, they experience loneliness.

Is someone who is travelling for work at an increased risk of experiencing loneliness?

If those people are leaving their family behind, feeling lonely or yearning for the people they left behind is actually a good thing. It’s much better to miss the people you love, than be happy that you’ve left them.

Is there a fact about loneliness that people may find surprising?

I once read a sentence that I really liked: “Don’t let the things that you cannot do prevent you from doing those that you can.” If you don’t want to be lonely, it may take some work and guidance, but you can change it.

This story appears in the October 2019 edition of WestJet Magazine and has since been updated.