How Loneliness is Damaging Our Health
Everyone tends to experience loneliness from time to time. These feelings become particularly noticeable around holidays, birthdays, and stressful times. Estimates suggest that the number of adults in the United States who experience loneliness is quite high and continues to grow with each passing year. So far, more than 61% of people have reported feeling lonely and expressed how they do not always know how to interpret or control these feelings.
Though apparently harmless, loneliness has a lot of potentials to destroy lives, especially if left untreated. Therefore, learning how to deal with loneliness as a man or woman is crucial to protect all aspects of life, including mental and physical health.
Contrary to popular belief, loneliness can do a lot of harm to the body in addition to being emotionally painful. It can impact different people in different ways, some of which are mentioned below:
Research has found strong associations between loneliness and depressive symptoms, particularly among people belonging to the older age group. Studies also suggest that both conditions can feed off of each other and can potentially perpetuate one another as well. This pushes a patient into a vicious cycle that is extremely hard to break.
Deteriorating Physical Health
Several studies have suggested how emotional stress is linked with suppressed immunity. This association is the reason why many people who are living alone for a long time automatically become much more susceptible to different infections and health issues. Over time, these repetitive health issues reduce the overall quality of life.
Experts believe that the human brain has certain areas that deal with social exclusion. Interestingly, these are the same areas that process physical pain, which explains why people with low moods and severe feelings of loneliness may complain of suffering from physical pain.
Loneliness may negatively aspect many different parts of life, but fortunately, it is possible to overcome this problem. A comprehensive and effective campaign to end loneliness typically involves the following tips:
Engage in Volunteer Work
Volunteering for a cause you truly believe in can provide you with multiple benefits, such as meeting others, being a part of a group, and creating new experiences. Moreover, these activities can help you find a purpose and meaning in life and decrease loneliness. Some people also report feeling more satisfied and happier after actively participating in volunteer work and believe that doing so has helped them find gratitude for what they have in life.
Find Support Online
Loneliness continues to be a widespread issue, so plenty of people are looking for help and support online. Try connecting with these people, especially the ones with similar interests and mindsets, through various social media platforms. Try to be careful about who you meet over the internet and refrain from passing any personal information to them. Many online groups connect people with similar issues to help them find support.
Strengthen Existing Relationships
You probably have a lot of people in life that you can get to know better to combat loneliness. These can be colleagues from work or other family members. Consider calling friends more often and planning outings with them. Alternatively, arrange a get-together for your family members over the weekend to deepen your connections with them. If you lack the motivation to reach out to your loved ones, consider taking things slow and working on one relationship at a time. Start with a family member or friend you can easily and comfortably reach out to and watch your loneliness go down the drain with time.
Adopt a Pet
Pets, such as cats and dogs, can bring multiple benefits to their owners, one of them being the prevention of loneliness. Rescuing a pet brings additional benefits of companionship and altruism and provides people with a support system that does not break easily. Adopting a pet helps connect people with others, such as during dog walks. Pets also offer unconditional love, which can be a good salve for loneliness in people who are struggling to keep their social life alive.
Talk to Strangers
An easy way to establish new connections in daily life is by interacting with strangers or acquaintances you encounter on a day-to-day basis. Research proves that engaging in conversations and interactions with people you don’t know well can contribute to overall emotional and social well-being. So the next time you go to the cafeteria to grab a cup of coffee and find your neighbor in the queue, do not be afraid to strike up a conversation.
One way to combat loneliness is by taking care of yourself in different ways. Self-care always seems like a good idea, but it can be particularly beneficial when someone is feeling down. Exercising, eating nutritious foods, and getting good sleep are simple examples of self-care that can make you slowly and steadily feel better. For a bonus, consider joining a gym or a fitness class as you practice self-care and find yourself around new people to interact with and build new relationships.
One of the best ways to combat loneliness is by distracting yourself from these feelings. Try keeping yourself busy by pursuing a hobby you have always wished to do, such as taking up a home improvement project or gardening in your backyard. This exclusive activity can keep your mind busy and give you many other things to think about, even when you are not actively involved in it.
See a Therapist
Research suggests that loneliness can easily perpetuate the symptoms of depression which, in turn, may worsen the former. In simpler words, the lonelier you feel, the more depressed you get, and vice versa. In such circumstances, getting out of the house to meet new people or old friends may not feel useful at all. Sometimes, you may feel lonely even when you are around your loved ones, which could be a sign of underlying social anxiety or depression. If this is the case with you, it might be a good idea to combat loneliness by seeking psychotherapy.
Psychotherapy has been known to help people cope with feelings of loneliness, especially when they have simultaneous symptoms of depression. One of this psychotherapy, called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), can help change negative thoughts and actions while replacing them with more positive ones. This therapy also allows them to experience less loneliness by equipping them with certain tools for recovery.
The best and the most long-lasting tip to fight loneliness once and for all is by making new social connections. However, this may not be an easy task for many, and most people fighting lonely thoughts may struggle to establish new relationships and links with others. Following are some tips that can help everyone with building new social connections and overcome loneliness.
To build new relationships, think about the type of connections you want. For instance, if you are more comfortable talking with others in smaller groups, look for any opportunity that connects you with such groups. Alternatively, if you are looking for understanding and support around something specific, you may consider looking for related organizations or groups. Try using any skill or interest to your advantage; for example, if you are a sportsman, consider joining a local sports team.
Take Baby Steps
Keep in mind that building confidence may require some time, so always give yourself realistic and easily manageable challenges. If you are extremely lonely, begin by learning how to feel more comfortable in public spaces, such as a busy restaurant. Once you have enough confidence, slowly take things from there to a higher level.
Be Active and Patient
Remind yourself that building relationships may take some time. It may seem a bit scary initially, but keep pushing yourself to initiate conversations and look for opportunities to spend more time with others. In the meantime, accept that it may take a while before you can feel like you are part of the group.
Accept the Realities
Making connections and new social links is not always a smooth path. You may come across some people who will immediately connect with you and others who may need to get along better. Do not use interactions with these people to form a reflection of your worth or value. Instead, use it as a signal that you have not met the right individuals yet.
Aim to Build Healthy Relationships
If you feel like you are not being heard in a current relationship, work on building assertiveness skills to respectfully articulate your needs. While doing so, remember that the other person is also an equal partner with their own needs that also matter. Do not base the relationship entirely around you and your needs, or it may collapse sooner or later.
Identify and Overcome Barriers
Do you see something standing between you and a relationship you wish to pursue? For example, some people may find that childcare, transportation, or mobility issues are the barriers keeping them from forming social connections and making them feel lonely. Try working around these issues by asking others for help. For instance, a family member might be willing to help with childcare, and a community organization may help you with transportation.
Is loneliness a disease?
Many people would wrongfully believe loneliness to be a mental health illness, while in reality, it is not. However, loneliness shares a strong association with mental health problems, as having a psychiatric issue can strongly increase the chances of developing loneliness.
Are most people lonely?
According to surveys, up to 57 percent of men and 59% of women report being lonely. Hence, it can be said that most people feel lonely at some point in life.
Why do people feel lonely?
Loneliness can have different causes in different people. Sometimes, a pre-existing mental health issue makes it difficult for people to interact with their loved ones like they normally do, making them feel lonelier and isolated. Other situations where you may feel lonely are when:
You are starting a new school, university, or employment place and struggling to make friends
You are struggling with your gender identity or sexuality
You feel quite different from people around you
You are not able to do things you see others around you doing
You experience the loss of someone close to you
A close friendship or relationship changes
How does loneliness feel?
Loneliness may feel different to different people. Mentioned below are some sentences people may commonly use to describe their state of isolation and loneliness:
I feel like I hold no importance to anyone
I always feel alone deep within myself
I feel like nobody really needs me
It feels a lot safer to be alone as I cannot get rejected this way
I feel lonely even when I am surrounded by people
I experience numbness when I feel alone
I feel like I don’t exist
I think I don’t have any real or meaningful relationships
I often feel like there is no one around me to share my good news with
All the situations mentioned above signal ongoing loneliness in one way or another.
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