How to Reduce Loneliness Through Flow

Entering a flow state could help people feel happier.

How to Reduce Loneliness Through Flow | Entering a flow state could help people feel happier.

The term flow state sounds like something that may have been made up by an inspirational speaker. However, flow is actually a scientific term used in the field of positive psychology to describe a state of mind are so caught up in doing something you can forget everything else exists. 

There is no one flow state it differs for everyone as each person has their own skill sets, interests, and challenges. However, according to Positive Psychology, despite the fact that flow is a subjective experience, it is intrinsically linked to feelings of happiness. These feelings may actually combat feelings of isolation and loneliness.

A double pandemic 
There is no doubt that Covid 19 has taken a terrible toll on the world. Along with the illness, deaths, and long-term physical effects of the disease, it has also brought about a secondary epidemic; an epidemic of loneliness, as the contagious nature of the virus has forced many people into isolation.

According to a survey done by the Mental Health Foundation in the UK about 9 months into Covid 19 restrictions, one in four adults in the UK reported that they had had feelings of loneliness over the previous two weeks.

Loneliness can have serious repercussions on a person’s health and mental stability. It often feels as if there is no respite, especially when it seems that the cure is the one thing you are unable to attain; company and friendship.  

Now, a recent Penn State study, published in Leisure Sciences,and Geriatric Nursing, respectively, have shown that entering a flow state may help combat loneliness..

The Penn State studies
The original study and a follow-up one, led by Dr. John Dattilo, a professor in the Penn State University Recreation, Park and Tourism Management Department, focused on two particularly vulnerable populations, international students and nursing home residents. 

Both of these groups that were studied were isolated during the Covid 19 pandemic. Nursing home residents were forced to isolate themselves due to health concerns, while international students found themselves in a foreign country without a social network. 

According to a news release from Penn State University,  Dattilo and his research team found that in both groups, engaging in activities that required skill and engagement, that is to say flow, reduced feelings of loneliness despite their isolation.

By engaging in meaningful activities that demand [their] focus, people can reduce loneliness and increase momentary happiness,” Dattilo said in the news release.

Christopher Bergland, a former endurance athlete, and current science writer, describes how flow helped him when he was going through a period of depression and intense isolation during his teen-aged years in a blog on Psychology Today

“I did know that losing myself in a so-called "flow channel" made me feel less lonely. Creating flow states on my own also made my solitude feel self-determined (SDS). I wanted to be alone in "the zone" and chose to spend solitary time pursuing flow states every day because it made me feel good,” he wrote in the blog.

This is why Dattilo’s studies are so important. They provide people with the tools to help themselves feel less lonely. Sometimes the key to happiness is just a step away into the flow.

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