Loneliness is a state of mind making us feel isolated, rather than a physical state of being alone. Lonely people crave meaningful human contact, not just any social connection.
That is why a person can feel lonely even when in a roomful of people. However, remember that if you feel overwhelmed by your loneliness, seek help from a clinical psychologist or a mental health counselor.
Loneliness is a hidden pandemic of our time, killing us silently. And in a world of nearly 8 billion people, more people are lonely now than we could imagine.
- In 2016, a joint study on loneliness by the Co-op and the British Red Cross found that 18% of the participants said they were often or always lonely.
- In the same year, 2016, a survey by the American College Health Association of 44,000 students found that two-thirds of them felt “very lonely” at some point in the past 12 months.
- An online survey of 20,000 American adults by the health insurer Cigna in 2018 revealed that 40% reported they lacked a meaningful relationship and felt socially isolated.
Loneliness reduces our overall well-being. Lonely people stop caring for themselves and adopt physically harmful behaviors like not washing for months, eating unhealthy foods, and living a sedentary life.
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Of course, loneliness can have many negative psychological effects. It can make us feel sad, irritable, empty, undervalued, and undesired. Researchers link loneliness to social isolation, poor social skills, depression, and introverted nature.
What Do We Feel Lonely? Why Is Loneliness On The Rise Today?
Loneliness is becoming an ever-increasing public health concern. In a crowded world today, we are more lonely than ever.
But loneliness has no single common cause, and people who feel lonely have many reasons to feel that way. Still, we can point to two modern-day common causes: One, the Covid-19 pandemic has caused us to live in physical isolation (forced solitude). Two, we have exponentially increased our digital interactions.
Increased Internet Usage
Increased Internet use has been linked to decreases in people’s communication with family members in the household, decreases in the size of their social circle, and increases in depression and loneliness, according to research (Kraut, Patterson, et al.1998).
We are spending more time on social media and Zoom meetings than face-to-face interactions. This is keeping us disconnected from the human element of society, something we developed with evolution.
We miss out on the micro-expressions (facial expressions that occur within a fraction of a second, that involuntarily leak a person’s true emotions.) and subtle emotional content that others share with us, which we can only detect in person-to-person interactions.
We also cannot see the interactions between people we are talking to and others in the conversation.
This has led to a decrease in empathy and compassion for others, as well as an increase in depression and anxiety disorders.
Lack of Social Contact
Loneliness can happen due to the direct lack of social contact, or it could be due to the lack of meaningful relationships in one’s life. In any case, it results from a feeling that your current social relationships are unsatisfactory.
A lack of social contact can be a result of physical and mental diseases, as well as issues related to old age.
A person who perceives himself or herself to be socially isolated is more likely to suffer from disease and has a shorter life expectancy (Holt-Lunstad, Smith, Baker, Harris, & Stephenson, 2015).
Alzheimer’s disease (Wilson et al., 2007), cardiovascular disorders (Hawkley, Thisted, Masi, & Cacioppo, 2010), and cancer are among the diseases associated with loneliness (Nausheen, Gidron, Peveler, & Moss-Morris, 2009).
Moreover, loneliness is associated with a higher risk of experiencing depressive symptoms, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts than operational stress injury or OSI (Van Orden et al., 2010).
Significant social bonds, on the other hand, are related to happiness in a positive way (Auné, Abal, & Attorresi, 2017).
Personality Issues And Traits
Personality traits and issues can contribute to loneliness.
People who have low self-esteem and lack self-confidence frequently believe they are undeserving of other people’s interest or respect, which can lead to social isolation and chronic loneliness.
Personality traits could also have an impact on causing loneliness. Introverts, for example, are known to be less likely to seek and build social connections, which can lead to feelings of being isolated and lonely.
How To Overcome Loneliness In a Connected World
75% of people who are always or often lonely don’t know where to turn for help.
Loneliness is such an agonizing experience that people will go to any length to avoid it. There are two opposing viewpoints on how people respond when they are lonely, which are:
1. Social Withdrawal
Lonely people are more likely to withdraw socially in response to stressors. When people are lonely, they become more shy, anxious, socially awkward, and have poorer self-esteem.
Loneliness is also connected with an unconscious hypervigilance to social threats and a tendency to act toward others in a less trusting and more hostile fashion.
Researchers found that very lonely children are hypersensitive to social threats. They saw the children in the upper range of loneliness showed increased hostility to ambiguously driven social exclusion, greater rejection sensitivity scores, and disengagement difficulties while viewing socially rejecting stimuli (Qualter, Rotenberg, et al., 2013).
This social withdrawal leads to loneliness-perpetuation.
2. Social Outreach
Loneliness is adaptive in that it stimulates humans to seek and maintain social relationships, enhancing one’s own and one’s offspring’s survival.
People who are socially isolated and lonely are more socially anxious and have a greater craving for social connection.
Numerous studies have found that loneliness has an adaptive effect on sensitivity to social information.
Loneliness predicts heightened sensitivity to emotional vocal tone.
Lonely persons are more likely to buy minority-endorsed products, but in public, they will switch to majority-endorsed products. People who are lonely tend to seek bodily warmth to alleviate social coldness.
This leads to loneliness-reduction.
Here are some other ways you can prevent and overcome loneliness:
1. Loneliness may be a risk factor for you if you score 44 or higher on the R-UCLA scale. Recognizing this is the first step toward helping yourself.
2. Despite our connectivity, we are more likely to feel lonely today because we don’t have people to share our experiences with. So, to avoid feeling lonely, make sure you invest more time in your relationships and stay positive while interacting with them.
3. It is not uncommon for people to feel lonely and isolated during the winter months. These cold and dark months can be hazardous times for those who already struggle with mental health issues, as they may descend into depression and anxiety.
You might try light therapy after consulting a mental health professional.
4. To combat loneliness and the feeling of being alone, we can find a way to escape the “alone bubble.” We all have experienced it during pandemic lockdowns and quarantines.
Once you recognize you can break your “alone bubble,” like reaching the end of the pandemic, find ways to break out of it. Make more time for friends or family, or go out more often on weekends.
5. It’s also crucial that we do not let our technology addiction take over our lives. Even if we use it as a form of escape, our excessive use of it still isolates us from others. So, keep your tech involvement within limits.
6. Lonely people often try to overcome their loneliness by making themselves busy. They plunge into work projects and social activities to dampen the pain of their solitary lives.
Keep an eye out for this: are you drowning yourself in “busyness” to avoid feeling lonely, and so becoming even more lonely? If yes, take yourself to places where you are likely to find people you can be friends with.
7. Sleep properly for 8 hours every day. A regular sleeping habit, that is, fixed times for going to bed and getting up, is an indispensable tool to help you feel energetic and courageous to go out and meet people.
We are living in the most connected world with people around us. Today, we can communicate with people from all over the world, and watch videos of people on many internet platforms. We still feel lonely and disconnected from people.
To solve this, first, we must stop, and help stop, seeing loneliness as a social stigma.
Loneliness is a common condition that can happen to the best of us. Even when we’re around people we know well, we can feel alone. And then become helpless to ask for help.
It is on the rise today, but we can start to solve it by sharing meaningful things with others whom we trust.
To end loneliness, you need other people—plus something else. You also need to feel you are sharing something with the other person, or the group, that is meaningful to both of you. You have to be in it together—and “it” can be anything that you both think has meaning and value. — Johann Hari
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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy—a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes on mental health, happiness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).
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