“If there are over 7 billion people on earth, then why do I feel so alone?
If there is someone for everyone, then why does it feel like it’s just me?
If I have friends, then how come I can end up feeling so friendless?
If I have family, then why do I sometimes feel like a family of one?
These are the questions that I have had to ask myself at times. But I have never seemed to get an answer…”
David Lean was a film director, screenwriter and editor.
In a discussion on the movie Summer Madness (1955), he said: “I think loneliness is in all of us; it is a more common emotion than love, but we speak less about it. We are ashamed of it. We think perhaps that it shows a deficiency in ourselves.” He had married 6 times and divorced 5.
Loneliness or Solitude
When a person experiences a depressing feeling of being alone she is said to be lonely. This can happen even if you are surrounded by people, in a marriage or in a community.
Solitude, on the other hand, is the state or situation of being physically alone, secluded or isolated. It may stem from bad relationships, loss of loved ones, deliberate choice, infectious disease, mental disorders, etc
While solitude can lead to loneliness it can also bring benefits like time for introspection, freedom, creativity and increased spirituality
Negative Effects of Loneliness
Researches show that loneliness can impact stress, heart health, and immunity.
In adults, loneliness is a major trigger for depression and alcoholism. It also increasingly appears to be the cause of a range of medical problems
Psychologist John Cacioppo of the University of Chicago while tracking the effects of loneliness found that it can seriously compromise health.
Here are some of his findings:
- Living alone increases the risk of suicide for young and old alike.
- Lonely individuals show higher levels of perceived stress even when exposed to the same stressors as non-lonely people, and even when they are relaxing.
- Lonely people’s social interaction are not as positive as those of other people, hence the relationships they have do not shield them from stress as relationships normally do.
- Loneliness raises levels of circulating stress hormones and levels of blood pressure.
- Loneliness destroys the quality and efficiency of sleep, so that it is less restorative, both physically and psychologically.
Other researches identify loneliness as a very frequent cause of addiction. The experience of feeling isolated or depressed is often at the root of substance abuse. Turning to drugs or alcohol appears as one of the easiest (though most damaging) fix one can turn to in an effort to take away that emotional pain.
Feelings of loneliness may not always require a ‘plan of action’. It may just be a passing mood. But when it becomes a chronic state of mind, steps need to be taken to prevent it from causing damages to our lives. Here are a few strategies to start feeling better. If you’re feeling lonely and want to move out of the feeling, any small step you take — even striking up a casual, friendly conversation with someone you meet often — is a good move., “Just do it.”
- Making a point to meet people who have similar interests like volunteering or exploring a hobby as ways to meet kindred spirits.
- Exploring your faith. Louise Hawkley, PhD, a research associate in the psychology department at the University of Chicago says that: “People who have a personal relationship with their God or a higher power tend to do well. There are a lot of factors at work here, one of them being that faith communities provide many opportunities for positive social encounters. In addition, faith can help you accept the things in life you can’t control”.
- Thinking beyond yourself. Depression can make you feel very self-focused, meaning that everything is all about you. That is trying to see things from others’ perspective.
- Reaching out to a lonely person. Whether you’re feeling lonely now or just know how it feels, you may get an emotional boost from befriending someone else who’s lonely.
- Talking to a trusted friend or relative. Get some feedback and ideas, as well as a sympathetic ear, from a family member or friend with whom you trust your thoughts and feelings.
- “Mindfulness teaches us that we are more than who we think we are,” says Jeffrey Greeson, PhD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center..
- Exploring therapy. That is if you just can’t shake profound feelings of loneliness
Let me end with the words of Deepak Chopra: “Solitude is the great teacher, and to learn its lessons you must pay attention to it.”
May you and me be wise enough to learn from it. May we face our loneliness with enough grit to take the required steps and patience to bear its inescapable pain.
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