October 3, 2019
Understanding Loneliness: What is Loneliness?
- Loneliness is the prolonged feeling of social or emotional isolation, in which a person feels that they are divided or separated from those around them.
- They feel that they have immense difficulty connecting with their peers on anything beyond a surface level, and become exhausted from the effort of trying.
- These feelings are usually accompanied by self-loathing, low self-esteem and self-confidence, and general inadequacy.
- Ongoing or chronic loneliness can affect any kind of person, even those who are most outgoing and extroverted.
- Loneliness is a deep internal conflict that can last for years in a person without anyone around them noticing.
- A person suffering from extreme or chronic loneliness will be negatively affected across all areas of their life.
If you believe that you or someone close to you might be dealing with loneliness or extreme loneliness, look out for the following symptoms.
Remember: loneliness affects us all differently, and some people may exhibit different variations of similar symptoms.
- Weak Connections: An individual experiencing loneliness cannot bond with other people beyond the surface level. In many cases, lonely people have friends or family, making it seem like they have a normal social life and emotional well-being, however, their interactions with the people in their life do not feel fulfilled or meaningful.
- No Best Friends: All the friends of a lonely person are casual or just passing by. They have no long-term close friends that they can connect with. For a lonely person, it feels like there is no one in their life who “gets” them.
- Social Exhaustion: Any type of social engagement physically and mentally exhausts someone lonely. Even when they genuinely try to take part in social activities – even those as simple as just going out for lunch with friends – they have difficulty enjoying the socializing because they feel so tired.
- Overwhelming Isolation: No matter how many people are physically around a lonely person, they feel an overwhelming sense of isolation. It is as if they are trapped in a bubble, and interact with the world through a filter that makes everything feel heavier and slower.
- Physical Effects: Due to all the other symptoms of loneliness, a lonely person will generally feel physical side effects such as insomnia, poor diet, weight gain, a weakened immune system, and general sickness.
How Loneliness Affects the Mind and Body
Some believe that loneliness is purely an emotional reaction, however, chronic loneliness can deeply affect a person’s mental and physical health. The increased anxiety and stress caused by loneliness forces the body to raise its cortisol levels, which leads to a myriad of physical and mental issues.
Some of these issues include:
|Increased risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s||Sleep disorders|
|Reduced ability to concentrate||Type 2 diabetes|
|Reduced decision-making and problem-solving||Heart disease|
|Depression||High blood pressure|
|Obsessive-compulsive disorder||Substance use|
|Social anxiety||Shortened lifespan|
|Mental fatigue||Increased inflammation|
So, who are the people most at risk of loneliness?
Loneliness can be experienced by anyone, but certain common situations can trigger the beginning (or recurrence) of loneliness. These include:
- Finding yourself in a new situation, such as a new city, job, or school, surrounded by unfamiliar faces.
- Losing the “quiet presence” of another person, in which you no longer have a person you can hang out with passively and quietly.
- Finding yourself different from those around you in an important way, such as religion, sexual orientation, or political beliefs.
- Losing trust in those closest to you, leaving you feeling hopeless and isolated with no one to turn to
- Realizing you have a lack of an intimate partner to share your most personal moments with, or your current partner no longer fulfills that need.
- Believing that none of your “friends” really want to become closer to you, as they often have no time to invest in further activities to bond with you.
- Unexpected causes of loneliness.
- Loneliness is not always what people think it to be. There is a reason why most people with loneliness live with it for years without their closest friends or family realizing it.
5 Ways to Help Yourself with Loneliness
1) Keep a Journal of Your Thoughts
Keep a journal of your thoughts and emotions. Write down everything you feel every day. From the small blips of happiness because you messaged an old friend or you received a compliment at work, to the huge moments of joy that can make your entire day great.
With this journal, you will have evidence made by your own two hands that yesterday and the day before weren’t as horrible as your loneliness wants you to believe. The first step to fighting loneliness is knowing how to snap out of it.
2) Separate the Feelings from the Facts
Remember that loneliness is a feeling (or a set of feelings), not a fact. When you find yourself trapped in a cycle of thoughts consisting of your brain asking itself, “Why am I so lonely and why does everyone dislike me?”, just take a step back from the inner turmoil, take a deep breath, and relax.
Now ask yourself: “What is making me feel lonely? What are my worst thoughts, and are they true?” Often, you will find that your worst thoughts aren’t true at all.
3) Find Your Tribe, (But Don’t Cut Everyone Else Off)
Find your tribe. What does this mean? It means finding people who share your interests and are willing to include you in their social gatherings. Too often, lonely people will try to find other lonely people, but this just makes the act of establishing strong connections, even more difficult, as both parties are incapable of doing it on their own.
But this also means keeping your original social networks and social bonds. Don’t isolate yourself from your current friends and relatives because you have found a new network or tribe. Once you manage to crawl out of your loneliness, those original social ties will feel a lot better than before.
4) Get Out of Your Head
Get out of your head. This doesn’t mean you have to stop feeling lonely. It just means you have to stop hyper-focusing on the reality of it. Try to appreciate the world around you – the little interactions between other people, the smiles and the greetings, the handshakes and the hugs. The more of an effort you make to understand and enjoy social interactions, the more natural it will start to feel for you.
5) Be Persistent, Be Curious, and Don’t Expect Perfection
Socializing is hard for everyone, not just you. Loneliness may make you think that you are unique and special (in a bad way), but you aren’t. Everyone has trouble joining new groups and making new friends, even those people who seem to be filled with all the confidence in the world.
Just because you failed once or twice doesn’t mean you were destined to be without friends for the rest of your life. It just means you failed once or twice, and now it’s time to try again. If you ask a friend out to coffee and they say they’re busy, then try again next week, or ask another friend. Where’s the harm in trying? Rejection is a part of life, and so are persistence and curiosity. Embrace it.