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I'm Lonely, What do I Do? Coping With and Conquering Loneliness

Whether literally alone, or feeling alone surrounded by people, here are ways to overcome loneliness
Coping with loneliness

Loneliness is a state of mind, an emotion felt by us which causes us to feel empty, alone and unwanted.

Lonely individuals often crave human contact, but the state of mind they're in often makes it difficult to form bonds with others.

Loneliness is not necessarily being physically alone; it is instead, feeling alone. For instance, one might feel lonely even while surrounded by people.

Is loneliness same as isolation?

Loneliness isn't the same as social isolation. As AgeUK says, "People can be isolated (alone) and not feel lonely. People can be surrounded by other people and yet feel lonely."

Loneliness is a subjective and personal feeling about the gap in a person's desired level and their actual level of social contact and attachment.

Social isolation is not about the number of contacts that one has. It is all about quantity and not quality of relations.

According to Cicioppo and Patrick (2008), how lonely one feels is a combination of three factors:

  • Level of vulnerability to social disconnection

  • The ability to self-regulate the emotions associated with feeling isolated

  • Mental representations of as well as reasoning about others

Being able to accept and cope effectively with loneliness, manage the feelings without being judgemental of self or others and find ways to solve problems can help to lessen the damage loneliness can do.

What causes loneliness?

According to Dr. John Cacioppo, co-founder of the field of social neuroscience, loneliness is strongly connected to genetics. Other factors may include situational variables, like physical isolation, moving to a new place etc.

Losing someone you were close with may also result in loneliness. Sometimes loneliness might even be a symptom of a psychological disorder, like depression.

Loneliness can also be attributed to internal factors such as low self-esteem or lack of confidence. People with low confidence often believe they're unworthy of attention and regard of other people, and this may lead to isolation and chronic loneliness.

To what extent is loneliness normal?

Feeling lonely once in a while is normal, everyone can pass through this feeling from time to time. However, if an individual is feeling lonely every day or most of the days in a week, they might need a self-assessment or an intervention.

Is loneliness just in the mind, or does it affect us physically?

Loneliness has psychological as well as physical effects on us, including:

  • Depression and self-harm or suicide

  • Cardiovascular diseases and strokes

  • Elevated stress levels

  • Decreased memory and learning

  • Antisocial behaviour

  • Poor decision making skills

  • Anti-social behaviour

  • Alcoholism and drug abuse

  • Altered brain functioning

For example, Dr. John Cacioppo says, "Lonely adults consume more alcohol and get less exercise than those who are not lonely. Their diet is higher in fat, their sleep is less efficient, and they report more daytime fatigue. Loneliness also disrupts the regulation of cellular processes deep within the body, predisposing us to premature aging." Loneliness is also linked to high blood pressure, and reduced immunity.

What can we do to cope with loneliness?

Few things one can try to cope with loneliness are:

  • Spend time with a non-human friend, like a pet, television, books, nature, comfort food etc.

  • Connect or reconnect with a human friend.

  • Do something creative and productive, think outside the box.

  • Help a person in need.

  • Accept how you feel and remind yourself that your loneliness is temporary and not a permanent phase.

  • Recognize that loneliness is a sign that something in your life needs to be changed.

  • Consider volunteer work or join a club based on an interest you have (i.e., running, reading). This will help you connect to people more.

  • Think positively and expect the best.

  • Don't lose hope!

Feeling lonely sometimes is a universal emotion and absolutely normal, but if it is affecting your life daily, it may be a sign that your mental health needs to be set as a priority. Take time to form connections, be it online (be safe while talking to people online) or in person.

"Real relief from loneliness requires the cooperation of at least one other person, and yet the more chronic our loneliness becomes, the less equipped we may be to entice such cooperation."

? John T. Cacioppo, Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection

For more support, join our empathetic community, chat with a free, trained listener, or start affordable online therapy today.

Sources:

https://www.ageuk.org.uk/our-impact/policy-research/loneliness-research-and-resources/loneliness-isolation-understanding-the-difference-why-it-matters/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/pieces-mind/201301/accepting-loneliness

https://www.verywellmind.com/loneliness-causes-effects-and-treatments-2795749

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/turning-straw-gold/201612/10-things-try-when-you-re-feeling-lonely


Posted: 12 August 2019
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Simran Singh

Simran is an aspiring Counselling Psychologist based in India who has been writing stories since she was 13.

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