Understanding and dealing with Loneliness
Average reading time: 22 minutes.
People are interconnected, regardless of race, sex, or nationality. Nobody came into this world alone and for that reason, people long for closeness with others.
Very simply, loneliness can be defined as an unwelcomed isolation. Being alone, not because of our own choosing, but because of circumstances often beyond our control.
Many studies have proven and shown that when answering the question: “What makes people happy?” on a larger scale, the answers received would be varied. Some people may say that Ice Cream or Pizza makes them happy, others may say that financial and material possessions is the root to their happiness. The most common answer though, would be the longing of close, happy and healthy relationships.
Social media does not always do what it was intended to do: bring people together.
How many times have you taken 20 pics of ultimately the same pic, in order to find that perfect snap?
In today’s age of technology, cliques, and social expectations, that ‘feeling of belonging’ proves to be very difficult for a lot of people. Millions of people right now feel like social outcasts. Social media can actually be intimating for many. People would see pictures of others on Twitter or Facebook and long for that person’s looks, their friends or even the car they drive. This constant comparison leaves them feeling inadequate. Many of us want to engage socially, but more and more of us are struggling because we feel that we will never be as good, as beautiful and as popular as those we see on Facebook everyday.
The truth about loneliness is that, Loneliness has nothing to do with how much friends you have; it’s the way you feel inside.
The link with mental health
Anxiety, depression, addiction and eating disorders: All these mental illnesses have a direct impact on how someone perceives the world as well as their ability to build healthy and sustainable relationships. The bigger the mental issues are, the bigger the likelihood of isolation, self-shame, lowered self-esteem and social anxiety.
‘Nobody understands me or knows how I feel.’
The link with physical health
Physical health is a gift that you can only give yourself; a gift that money can’t buy. It’s common for someone that does not or struggles to look after his or her physical health to have a lowered self-esteem. Their confidence levels are much lower than the average person. This makes socializing with others that much harder.
The quality of someone’s physical health is very closely linked with loneliness. Someone with poor physical health is more likely to suffer from other mental illnesses, ultimately resulting in the increased likelihood of loneliness. On the flip side, someone that is currently lonely may start neglecting his or her physical health. They may feel that there is no point In taking care of themselves anymore as nobody really wants to be around them and they have very little or no healthy, sustainable relationships. At least not the relationships they want.
When someone’s mental and physical health deteriorates that person may not want to be around other people and then chooses to abstain from all mankind.
Wanting to constantly be alone can create a self-fulfilling prophecy.
When we want to constantly be by ourselves, we may start believing that people do not want to be around that or us nobody enjoys our company. A lot of the time, people want to be around us, we are the ones that don’t want to be around them, yet we blame them for not being there for us in our time of need.
Finally, loneliness is contagious. People that are lonely transmit loneliness. Those that spend excessive amounts of time around others that are lonely, become lonely themselves.
Let’s spend a bit of time digging deeper into the issues around loneliness, starting with the stigma attached to loneliness.
The stigma behind Loneliness
What makes loneliness harder to treat is the Stigma attached to it. Because of this stigma, people are unable to admit their loneliness.
Recent studies have shown that millions of people experience loneliness on a daily basis.
Social media, television, magazines, even those around us can sometimes paint this picture of what an ideal world, an ideal life would look like. We then either consciously or subconsciously start comparing our own lives’ to these ideals and more often than not; we feel that we may have fallen short.
There are thousands of people suffering without people even knowing because of the stigma attached to loneliness. This stigma makes admitting that we are lonely hard to admit to others and uncomfortable to admit to ourselves.
Many people would rather openly talk about depression and social fears before openly talking about their loneliness. This is because loneliness is seen, by many, as a sign of weakness and people fear that they would be negatively judged by others.
Loneliness is often associated with old age. Statistically, elderly people could often be lonelier than younger people because they may not have as much exposure or interaction with others. This is yet another stigma that is not always true. Loneliness affects all people. In fact, more and more “younger” people are being affected by loneliness today.
If you’re feeling lonely, you’re not alone. More and more people are lonely in this day and age.
Introvert VS Extrovert
There is a very big misconception about introversion and loneliness being closely linked. First, let’s start by establishing what the primary difference between an introvert and an extrovert is.
An Extrovert is someone that appears to be socially confident, friendly and outgoing?
An Introvert is someone that is shy and prefers to refrain from as much social events as possible?
On the surface, the below definitions may seem correct and this is how the many people view Extroverts and Introverts, but if you share the same view… then this is not completely accurate.
An Introvert can simply be defined as someone that reenergizes by spending quality alone time.
An Extrovert can simply be defined as someone that reenergizes by being around people, by connecting with others and making social contact.
Introverts enjoy spending quality time alone and that great, in fact, it can even be healthy. That’s how the introvert recharges, energized.
Being alone by your own choice rather than being alone due to forces outside of your control is very different.
Effects of loneliness
When people feel socially accepted and apart of, they often function best. That feeling of belonging can greatly contribute to people remaining motivated and having that drive that motivates them to complete their required daily functions.
When these basic social requirements are not met, the consequences can be severe.
Effects of loneliness on children
The effects of loneliness on children can be quite severe. These effects also carry with the child well into their adulthood.
Unable to connect socially from a young age can cause a lot of children to develop negative coping mechanisms, such as lying, stealing or even being manipulative in an attempt to try fit in and be accepted.
These kids believe that the world is an evil and cruel place and often believe that they would have to fend for themselves from a young age. These kids grow up way too fast and often skip the important early developmental stages of childhood.
A lot of kids turn to drugs, alcohol, sex or join street gangs in an attempt to escape that overwhelming feeling of loneliness.
Effects of loneliness in adults
With adults, the effects of loneliness can be very bad as well. Loneliness is a major contributing factor in depression with adults. Lonely adults are more likely to turn to alcohol, drugs and sex in an attempt to fill that void, that feeling of emptiness.
Lonely adults are known to be under a lot more stress than those with healthy relationships. They struggle to ask for help. The lack of positive and healthy support often leads to feelings of being completely overwhelmed and this can further contribute to other mental and physical issues.
Lonely people have a poor quality of sleep. Sleep is vital and can bring out our creative bones. Sleep helps with our memory and is vital for completing everyday tasks. Getting enough sleep can help us function normally, not getting enough, will do the opposite.
Effects of loneliness in elderly
Loneliness in elders is well known by many. The effects loneliness can have on elders though, is what many are unaware of.
Lonely elders have higher levels of functional decline, that it the ability to do day-to-day activities, such as feeding themselves, walking, talking and functioning without assistance. This is because the immune systems of lonely elders are a lot more compromised than those that have healthy company.
It’s evident that loneliness affects all people, regardless of age, sex, religion or location. The effects can be severe, but also, loneliness does not just affect you, yeah you reading this right now, but it affects those that are very close to you.
Quality over Quantity
Truth be told, I was that kid described in the above paragraph on the effects of loneliness on children.
Growing up, I was a very lonely kid and viewed the world as a dangerous and scary place. I developed a whole lot of negative defense mechanisms: bad coping mechanisms. I started losing all morals, I frequently lied, I stole and I started consuming alcohol from an early age. As time went on I discovered that I could use these bad coping mechanisms to my advantage. I could use this to finally feel apart of and to fill that empty void, which was loneliness.
Eventually, I had more friends than I could ever have imagined. The only problem was that I still felt lonely. It wasn’t long after that, that I came to realize that having a lot of company does not necessarily help with loneliness. What really counts is having a few close, happy and healthy relationships.
When do people feel lonely?
I have just highlighted some of the main and important reasons that people feel lonely, but the reasons why people feel lonely differs from person to person.
- After loss of a loved one
There is a deep silence when losing a loved one. Knowing that you will never hear their voice again or see the things that they used to do, which made them who they were. These people are often an integral part of your life and when they are gone, you lose all that they had to represent.
Wanting to spend alone quality time is good thing, but when you consistently spend extended periods of time alone, this becomes the norm and you start feeling lonely as a result.
- Emotional isolation
it is possible for someone to be in a relationship with someone and still be emotionally shut off. This is often used as a defense mechanism to protect themselves and is as a result of insecurities, fears or lack of self-confidence. This person becomes shut down so they end up feeling lonely even when they have people around.
- Social phobia
This is also known as social anxiety disorder. Some people are scared of interactions that involve other people. They avoid social interactions at all costs and fear that they may be judged, misunderstood or simply not fit in.
- Social media
Social media is one of the biggest contributors to people feeling lonely. In this age of millennials. Many people detract from life, as they feel more comfortable engaging online.
Depression is one of the biggest causes of loneliness. People that are depressed may form anxiety that makes it hard for them to interact with people, they may not be in the mood to be around people or they don’t feel worthy of other’s company.
Constantly being negative can drive people away from you. Negative people often feel that people do not want to be around them or be there for them and this is true. Nobody wants to be around somebody that constantly dampens their mood.
- Hurt too many times – guard up
Some people have been hurt by others far to many times and as a result they are very untrusting and struggle to let people into their lives.
- Unrealistic expectations
In my opinion, we all have expectations of others. We expect people to behave in a certain manner; we expect them to do certain things, to be respectful etc. A lot of people have completely unrealistic expectations of others and when people do not live up to their expectations, they have failed.
Now that we have a better understanding of loneliness and how it affects us; let’s go through a few things we can implement to treat loneliness.
How to deal with loneliness?
Quality relationships are not just when you’re going through a rough patch and simply need a friend to dump all your problems onto. Closeness with another is a relationship that is mutually beneficial. We often feel lonely when we have problems and feel like we have no one to talk to. Develop these healthy relationships before you get to the problematic phase to ensure that you are not simply using the one’s you are close with when you’re in need.
If you have existing relationships and when completely honest with yourself; you realize that you are probably not doing all that you can to ensure that these existing relationships are a success, then start by focusing on your existing relationships. Focus on developing healthier and more positive relationships from your existing relationships before seeking out new relationships.
Remember the quality over quantity rule.
Many people struggle to get to that stage of ensuring that their existing relationships are healthy and mutually beneficial, because they struggle to form these relationships in the first place.
Here are my below suggestions to fighting loneliness:
Volunteering can help fight loneliness. It is one of the most effective ways of dealing with loneliness. Not only do you feel a sense of connection, but you also feel a sense of accomplishment, knowing that you have done good in the life of someone else today.
Be willing to dig deep and understand the root cause of your loneliness. Are you perhaps expecting too much from people? Have you been isolating and wondering why nobody else has bothered to make an attempt to connect with you? Have you started dealing with all the underlying issues that has prevented you from building healthy and substantial relationships?
Dig deep and understand the root cause of your loneliness. Knowing that you’re lonely is good, but understanding why you’re lonely is another thing entirely. That knowledge grants you power, with that power you can know what areas need to be addressed.
Many of us struggle to develop new and healthy relationships because we have been hurt in the past and we held onto that resentment and hurt. Forgiveness is an essential tool in freeing yourself. Be sure to check out my post on forgiveness and how to forgive. – Click here.
People do not want to be around negative people. It’s very off-putting. If you fall into this category, perhaps you need to start implementing a positive and healthier outlook in life. Start actively seeking out the positive in every seemingly negative situation. Surround yourself with positive people; much like loneliness, positivity is contagious.
Comparing yourself to others
People are all born unique and as individuals. Stop comparing yourself to others. This is a self-defeating exercise and will only leave you feeling empty and lonelier than ever before. You will never have what some else has and they will never have what you have. Focus on the beauty of individuality, find your true place in this world and own it.
Less stress. Sleep. Eat.
Find healthy ways to manage stress. Develop healthy coping mechanisms. Stress can become so overwhelming that it will leave you feeling hopeless and you don’t want to be around others, let alone seek help and support. As mentioned, sleep is vital to our wellbeing. Without quality sleep, we cannot function at optimal levels. Ensure that you receive quality sleep every night.
A healthy diet is one of the most fundamental aspects of physical and mental wellbeing. By ensuring that you have a healthy diet, your confidence and esteem levels are that much higher. This makes social engagement a lot more manageable.
This may sound like the weirdest idea ever, but the simple act of paying random people honest and sincere compliments can help develop positive connections and you feel a lot more positive and better about yourself, knowing that you have contributed towards making another smile.
If all else fails, seek help
Unfortunately; dealing with loneliness is not easy. It is one of the most complex problems to deal with. That being said, the above methods should help for a lot of people, but it may not help for all. In these cases, it is recommended that you see a professional psychologist or social worker that can help you develop healthy coping mechanisms, deal with the underlying problems around your loneliness and develop positive social skills.
Loneliness is a problem that affects many, it is a multilayered problem that remains one of the most prominent and difficult to address. The effects of loneliness can be very devastating, but there are available solutions to dealing with loneliness.
Before dealing with your loneliness, by searching for external factors to make you happy, ensure that you have started working on finding happiness from within. Once we can find happiness from within, we know our value, we know what we are worth and we know what we deserve. Only then, do we start developing mutually healthy relationships.
What is your experience with loneliness? Have your experienced loneliness and managed to overcome it? I would love to hear your views in the comments below: