Loneliness is used to describe the negative feelings when your needs for social connection are not met. Many can connect emotionally to the people they live and work with. However, many cannot connect or share their happiness and worries with those around them.
Social media and fast-paced life have accentuated loneliness among people. Isolation and loneliness go hand in hand. Chronic loneliness and isolation can affect general health and mental health. Loneliness must not be confused with “me time.” It is normal to enjoy spending time alone on occasion. Spending time alone can help one reflect, focus, relax, and recharge.
People have different needs for the “me time.” Some may need more “me time” than others, and some may need more social interaction than others. When this need for social interaction is not being met over a period, it can lead to loneliness. Chronic loneliness and feeling isolated can occur in children and adults. An adult or child can feel lonely and isolated despite being surrounded by people, such as family. This is because others may not be empathetic toward them or interacting enough with them, making them feel lonely. So, you might need something or someone else to feel your best. It is important to be able to recognize loneliness and address it to prevent complications.
What are the effects of loneliness on the body and mind?
Loneliness can result in the following signs and symptoms:
- Feeling sad and empty
- Anhedonia (unable to be happy)
- Lethargy (decreased energy)
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty falling asleep or interrupted sleep
- Too much sleep
- Decreased or loss of appetite
- Decreased confidence
- Feeling hopeless
- Feeling worthless
- Feeling anxious
- Chronic body aches and pains
- Feeling tired
- Lack of motivation
- Difficulty getting off the bed or couch
- Increased consumption of alcohol
- Misusing recreational drugs
- Spending an excessive amount of time watching television
- Having the urge to spend excessively
- Craving for physical warmth, such as hot drinks, baths, or blankets
What are the complications of chronic loneliness?
Chronic loneliness and isolation can result in the following complications:
- Diseases: Chronic loneliness increases the risk of heart disease, high cholesterol, and diabetes. It can cause mental health problems, such as anxiety, emotional distress, addictions, or depression. Loneliness can also increase the risk of suicidal death.
- Decreased sleep quality: Chronic loneliness can result in difficulty falling asleep and/or interrupted sleep. Poor quality of sleep can affect functioning during the day, resulting in daytime sleepiness and fatigue.
- Depression: Loneliness and social isolation can increase the risk of depression or worsen the symptoms of depression.
What causes loneliness?
Loneliness can happen for several reasons. It can either be because of the personality or circumstances/surroundings. Some causes of loneliness include:
- Change of schools or jobs
- Moving to a new city
- Working from home
- Divorce or end of a relationship
- Ending of a friendship
- Losing a loved one
- Living alone
- Having to self-isolate, for example, home quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic
- Lack of meaningful connections despite having many casual friends and social events
- Living with chronic mental or physical health issues
Lifestyle changes to overcome loneliness
Some lifestyle changes that could help overcome the feelings of loneliness include:
- Exercise: Exercise does not always mean sweating it out in the gym. Just staying physically active by walking, practicing yoga or Pilates, or dancing will help keep your mind refreshed and active. An active lifestyle results in a healthy body and mind. It is a great way to battle depression as well. Try to keep aside at least 10-30 minutes a day to exercise.
- Pets: Pets are a great way to instantly relax and put you in a positive mood. Not all pets require a lot of time, space, or money. There are many low-maintenance pets, such as hamsters, turtles, or birds. You could do your research to find a pet that suits your lifestyle and budget.
- Volunteering: Volunteering is a powerful way to help feel positive and happy while helping others. Volunteering can be enriching and relaxing. The appreciation you would receive from others would give you a sense of purpose and motivate you. In your free time, you could consider volunteering at local animal shelters, orphanages, or old age homes.
- Hobbies: Spending some time every day to do an activity you like and cultivate your hobby would make your life more enjoyable. It could be simple, such as reading a book, listening to music, playing an instrument, cooking, gardening, art, and craft. You could also join a club or attend meetups related to your hobbies; this will help you meet like-minded people. Hobbies are relaxing and help you de-stress.
- New experiences: Going out of your comfort zone to experience something new could add joy and excitement to your life. This could be as simple as trying a new cuisine or going on a trip. You could make it a point to enjoy a new experience once a week, such as attending a cool workshop or hiking. This can help you relax and de-stress. Also, you may get to know new people and expand your social circle.
- Talk to someone: Talking to someone when you are stressed or feeling down will prevent you from keeping your emotions bottled up and help you feel more relaxed. This could be a friend or relative you confide in or a counselor. There is no shame in visiting a psychologist to help deal with your emotional stress. Visiting a professional does not mean you have a “mental illness.” A professional could guide you, help you release the emotions that prevent you from relaxing, and maintain your mental health. It is better to seek help before it is too late.
- Become comfortable with spending time alone: Being able to enjoy your company, spending time on your own, and doing your hobbies or other activities would help you overcome the feelings of loneliness.
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Loneliness and Social Isolation Linked to Serious Health Conditions. https://www.cdc.gov/aging/publications/features/lonely-older-adults.html
Novotney A. The risks of social isolation. American Psychological Association. May 2019; 50(5): 32. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/05/ce-corner-isolation