Coping with Loneliness

Most of us have felt the pangs of loneliness, during a major change in our lives, including the loss of a special relationship. Loneliness does not mean that you don’t have any relationships at all. It indicates that even when you are surrounded by multiple relationships, there is no single intimate connection that you can identify. You are not able to make an emotional connection with someone which is causing a void in your life. You may feel unwanted or excluded, even in a room full of people.

Not only is the effect of loneliness feeling desolate and depressed, but it is also linked to an increased risk of mortality in older adults.

According to a recent study, “Emotional loneliness is associated with an increased risk of all-cause mortality in older adults who live alone. Functional status was identified as one potential pathway accounting for the adverse consequences of loneliness. Emotional loneliness that can arise out of the loss or absence of a close emotional attachment figure seems to be the toxic component of loneliness.”

According to an article in the  Harvard Business Review, “Loneliness and weak social connections are associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity.”

John Cacioppo, the founder of the University of Chicago Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience, talks about the lethality of loneliness.

Although, on one hand,  we can credit the social media platforms with reducing physical boundaries and helping to connect us over long distances, on the other hand, they have also played a detrimental role in increasing our sense of isolation, as we view others’ perfect lives through carefully curated images. Paradoxically,  social media can be quite antisocial, with a higher level of internet usage steering people towards higher level of emotional loneliness. We cannot substitute creating social media accounts or an enhanced number of followers for real human connection. This epidemic of social media usage has reached such heights that there is now a Social Media Disorder (SMD) Scale.

Loneliness severity and age have a complex relationship, with increased loneliness noted in the late-20s, mid-50s, and late-80s.

Why we feel lonely

  • Social anxiety plays an important role in aggravating loneliness. People might find that you are not interested in talking to them not realizing that you feel socially anxious.
  • You don’t have any significant relationship that you feel close to in your heart.
  • Introverts may find it more difficult to bond with people as large groups of people make them feel mentally exhausted
  • Too much use of social media which gives you a false sense of belonging by disconnecting you from the real world
  • Different expectations from others. One in four Americans rarely or never feel as though there are people who really understand them.
  • Economical or geographical factors
  • Communication gap
  • Lack of awareness

Effects of loneliness

Physical Effects

  • Higher risk of  Heart disease.
  • Linked to increased risk of mortality in older adults
  • Poor eating habits/ Eating disorder
  • Lonely people reported Poor sleep quality in comparison with people who don’t feel lonely.
  • Weaker immune system as loneliness can increase chronic stress which results in Chronic stress
  • Can result in High Blood pressure
  • Higher chance of developing disabilities (disability)  at later stages of life
  • More vulnerable to viral infections

Psychosocial Effects

  • Loss of sense of belonging
  • Vicious circle: The lonelier you feel, the more difficult it can be to find an intimate relationship
  • People who are lonely decipher social situations more unconstructively thus increasing their sense of a void
  • Depression
  • Increase in stress
  • Binge-watching
  • More time on social media
  • Possessive about materialistic things
  • Suicide Ideation
  • Dementia
  • The strong negative association of wisdom

How to overcome it

  • Recognize that you are feeling lonely. You can use the  UCLA Loneliness scale and if you feel that you are checking off most of the symptoms, then seek professional advice.
  • Try to figure out why you feel lonely. Is it lack social skills, any physical barrier, etc.? Once you have pinpointed the reason, you would be able to find a solution
  • Stop comparing yourself to others. This is even more relevant in the age of social media. Remember that people put their best photographs out there, but you don’t know the whole story.
  • Create social contact and enhance your social support
  • Mindfulness
  • Ask for help
  • Self-care and compassion: accept and love yourself.
  • Productive use of lonely time
  • Form social connections by joining some activity clubs where you can meet likeminded individuals.  Try volunteering
  • Learn new things
  • Talk about your feelings

As supported by various studies, loneliness not only adds stress and depression to your life but it can also lead to many serious ailments and an increased risk of mortality. Creating social and emotional support is very imperative for fighting this epidemic of loneliness.

Disclaimer:
No content on this site should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or another qualified clinician.

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