Loneliness is a common emotion when someone feels alone, detached from others, or unsupported and distressed. Everyone feels lonely at times in their lives, but chronic loneliness poses serious health risks, including conditions that may lead to death. Studies suggest that loneliness can be as threatening to health as cigarettes, excess alcohol and obesity.
Loneliness has increased with modernization, since people are busy in virtual social communities and don’t have the desire to attend a social gathering or stay in touch with family and friends. But, with time, loneliness and lack of companionship affects physical and mental health.
Causes of loneliness
Particular lifestyles and the stresses of everyday life can make some people socially lonely and susceptible to loneliness. Many situations may make you feel lonely, such as, if you:
- Lose a partner or someone close to you, through death or relocation
- Go through a divorce or break-up
- Are a single parent or caring for someone else, giving you less time for socializing
- Retire and miss the social communication you had at work
- Are older and find it difficult to go out alone
- Relocate or move to a new place without family, friends or community networks
- Have a mental health condition such as depression, anxiety, or lack of purpose in life
- Have difficulty in meeting new people due to shyness, an introverted personality, or feeling like you don’t belong
- Experience discrimination and stigma, because of a disability or health condition, or gender, race or sexuality
Effects of loneliness
Chronic loneliness can be extremely harmful to health, and can increase the risk of physical and mental health disorders.
- Mental health – Loneliness is one of the leading causes of mental disease, increasing the risk of depression, anxiety, paranoia, or panic attacks.
- Dementia – It has been noticed that people living alone or staying in nursing homes and old age institutions have greater chances of developing dementia than those staying with their families.
- Heart disease and other illnesses – Though we overlook loneliness as just a passing phase, it can be fatal enough to cause premature death. Loneliness can cause long-term inflammation in the body, and also hardening of the arteries (which leads to high blood pressure). Studies show that people who live alone are more likely to suffer from stroke, heart attacks or other complications, than those who live with their family or in a public institution.
- Sleep problems – Lonely people experience more trouble with sleep. This includes difficulty getting to sleep, waking frequently or sleeping too much.
- Negative feelings – Lonely people usually suffer from lack of motivation and purpose in life. Loneliness increases feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness or thoughts about suicide.
- Substance abuse – Loneliness could result in increased consumption of alcohol, smoking, medications, and drugs.
Tips to reduce loneliness
Getting involved in social activities and engaging with people are the best ways to ease loneliness and improve mental health. Here is a list of activities that may help:
- Connect with friends and family – Rather than withdrawing into yourself, it is better to reach out to friends and family and spend quality time with them. If your family doesn’t live nearby, technology can help you stay in touch. Developing a healthy friendship helps in relieving sadness and loneliness.
- Get out more! – Try a new hobby, join clubs, enroll in studies, or learn new skills. It is not hard to find people and groups, who share similar attitudes, interests, activities and values. Get along with such people to enjoy hikes, road trips, and even exercise classes together.
- Volunteer – Paying attention to the feelings and needs of other people and trying to help them in some or the other way, can help you feel more connected and valued.
- Get involved in your community – Attending social gatherings or meetings offers the chance of meeting and interacting with new people, and making friends.
- Consider getting a pet – Pets cannot replace humans, yet are wonderful companions and can provide comfort and support during times of stress, ill-health or isolation.
If loneliness is causing you extreme anxiety and stress, you should discuss your problems with a doctor, counselor or a trusted person. Take control of your life and make it more worthwhile by getting out of loneliness.
Loneliness is the most terrible poverty!