We feel we’re more connected than ever – but are we!?!
“The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved”
Quoted by MOTHER THERESA
One is likely to be familiar with the unusually painful and complex emotional state of experiencing loneliness through isolation, real or virtual.
What causes loneliness? Loneliness is a universal human emotion but is unique to each individual. It is explained simplistically through the bio-psycho-social model that entails a multi-factorial role of biological (genetic), psychological (emotional state and thinking patterns) and social factors (environmental stresses). There are various examples of such psychosocial factors:
- Significant changes/ life events that brings about unfamiliarity
- Feeling different/ out of place from the people around
- Having no intimate partner
- Not having someone to share with (even pets)
- Not enough ME time (solitude)
- Frequent heartbreaks/ betrayals
- Not having someone to share a living space with (albeit quietly)
Loneliness typically brings anxiety about feeling of being unloved, unwanted and being unproductive not just in the present, but often extends into anxiety about future. Not surprisingly, research has shown that one could feel just as lonely when surrounded by people, as much as when living in isolation. This tells us that it is more of a state of mind than an external isolation. For example, it has been witnessed in people in marriages, relationships, families and even those with successful careers over the years.
Loneliness causes people to crave human contact, but their state of mind makes it more difficult to form connections with other people.
To be happy, we need intimate bonds; we need to be able to confide, we need to feel like we belong, we need to be able to get and give support. In fact, strong relationships are key … perhaps ‘the key’ … to a happy life!
Of course, being alone and being lonely aren’t the same. Loneliness feels draining, distracting, and upsetting; but desired solitude feels peaceful, creative, and restorative. While loneliness exhibits a discrepancy between one’s felt need of versus achieved level of social interaction. Solitude is simply a brief and voluntary absence of social contact. In the words of Nokila Tesla “being alone—that is the secret of invention, the cradle of creativity”.
On a spiritual front, the existentialist school of thought views loneliness as an essence of being human. It advocates that all humans are born alone and ultimately die alone, and coping with this realisation, accepting it and learning to direct one’s own life with grace and satisfaction is the human condition.
Mental health perspective states that Depression is intricately linked with feeling lonely. It marks a red flag for suicidal tendency, with unwillingness to live for others. It can also precipitate substance use disorders due to poor sleep quality, exhaustion or mere means of seeking socialisation. At times, schizoid patters of thought are linked with loneliness, by an autistic regression into a world of their own, and evolving into a personality that prefers social alienation over interaction. Loneliness in younger age groups can potentiate destructive behaviours towards self or others and even affect memory and learning adversely, further leading to emotional issues.
When loneliness is chronic (lasting for years) it is linked to increase in cortisol levels (stress hormone) causing anxiety, depression, digestive problems, heart disease, sleep problems, and weight gain, further causing increased risk of stroke and cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity. It impairs body’s immune responses, thus increasing susceptibility to illnesses.
When we feel socially isolated our nervous systems automatically switches into ‘self-preservation mode’, which makes us more abrasive and defensive – even if there’s actually no threat. Loneliness makes the brain more alert to threats and the possible danger of strangers, as they remain more active in social situations. This hyper-vigilance to respond to social threats could be rooted in the subconscious, thus attracting more negative experiences.
Because it has no single common cause, the prevention and treatment of this potentially damaging state of mind can vary dramatically. How do we combat this disease? Most doctors would recommend taking therapy, in order to understand the cause of the problem, reversing the negative thoughts, feelings, and attitudes resulting from the problem, and exploring ways to help the person feel connected. Alternative approaches include various lifestyle modifications, pet therapy, reminiscence of good old days and indulging in religious/ spiritual activities that encourage socialising and alleviate symptoms of depression.
An important step towards dealing with loneliness due to lack of socialising is learning social cognitive skills along with social skills training. Results of meta-analysis suggest that correcting maladaptive social cognition offers the best chance of reducing loneliness.
Like for all disorders, preventing loneliness is better than curing it. While curing loneliness requires one to make a conscious change in life, prevention helps creating positive avenues for bringing about the change easily. Education about loneliness, community activities, finding like-minded people, sharing values and ideas with people we meet, having affirmative beginnings to the days, and reinforcing positive attitudes towards relationships are some ways to prevent loneliness from creeping into our lives.
“Without great solitude no serious work is possible” – Quoted by PABLO PICASSO
Steal away opportunities for some time to be with yourself. A major part of this is turning off the technology. The goal is not to be in solitude all the time either. There is value in interaction and collaboration, but there must be ‘BALANCE’. Right now, it seems like we’ve gotten away from this balance and we’re a little too connected.
Caution for social media exposure: A University of Michigan study found that we’re more likely to use social media when we’re feeling lonely. Although it doesn’t necessarily make us feel lonelier, watching people’s lives go by on our newsfeeds can lead to feelings of unhappiness. So instead of logging into Facebook next time you’re feeling lonely, try face-to-face interaction and/or make a phone call to someone you love and make a meaningful contact. Loneliness is subjective, and is not to do with your number of Facebook likes!
If nothing works for the person who exhibits symptoms of Loneliness then it makes sense to reach out for help outside with professionals. There are options for face to face therapy, online counselling or online therapy, which is more popular these days due to ease, comfort and desirable results.
Juno Clinic is on its way to be India’s leading Wellbeing Company and Mental Health Service provider globally with main focus on Quality, Ease of Reach and Approachability. We provide full stack of services including counselling, treatment and assessment. Our therapists offer counselling over video, audio or chat. The online platform has been developed specifically for a seamless counselling process, privacy, comfort and high engagement level, which can be used by therapists anywhere in the world.