Connecting with individuals or societies is an essential aspect of a person’s life. Inadequate social interaction can lead to loneliness which could have a severe negative impact on a person’s mental health when it is prolonged. Loneliness can be described as an unpleasant emotional response to perceived isolation.
It is important to know that loneliness and being alone do not mean the same thing. An individual can be alone but have enough social interactions over the phone or internet or could be connected to a spiritual or higher being. Another difference between loneliness and being alone is that lonely individuals are less likely to engage with stressors; they usually withdraw from them. In contrast, individuals that are alone (but not lonely) are more likely to deal with stressors by seeking help from others.
Causes of loneliness include:
● Relationship loss
● Social awkwardness
● Loneliness can be contagious: it is believed that loneliness can spread in a social network. Results from a study indicated that people close to an individual experiencing loneliness are about 52 per cent more likely to become lonely as well.
Loneliness has been shown to increase the levels of cortisol (stress hormone) in the body. High cortisol levels have been linked to anxiety, obesity, sleep disorders, cardiovascular diseases, suppression of the immune system leading to different conditions and illnesses.
Loneliness and depression can have similar features, which makes it challenging to determine where one ends, and the other begins. These features include:
● Changes in appetite
● Changes in sleep pattern
● Aches and pains
Loneliness differs from depression; however, in that, loneliness is a transient emotional state that is connected to a person’s need for a community or a sense of belonging. In contrast, depression does not relate to the need for connection. However, that sense of loss of community can lead to depression. This depends on the individual’s self-image. If a person feels left out from their community, they could perceive themselves with disgust and judge themselves harshly. This judgement could be tailored towards the action that caused them to be alienated or towards themselves as a whole. They could fixate on this thought enough to believe it.
While loneliness may not be a condition that is easily diagnosed, there are ways a person could get help to deal with the feeling of loneliness:
▪ Talk to someone: this could be a therapist, religious leader or a trusted ally, who could help you adjust to the new environment, or help patch things up with the old friends, or move on from the old relationship.
▪ Volunteer and participate in social events: school clubs, religious units, sporting associations, libraries are an excellent place to form relationships.
▪ Try out new hobbies: make these hobbies satisfy you. It could be painting, dancing, writing, running. Working on your hobbies can create a community of like minds and help improve your outlook on life.
▪ Be kind and compassionate to yourself.
In conclusion, loneliness can happen to anyone, it is normal to feel a little low when you lack social connection, but one should work to improve the quality of their relationships to prevent future loneliness. No matter how lonely you feel, there is always someone ready to interact with you. Find them and make sure they are quality!!
Written by Idowu Mary
Idowu Mary is a fifth-year medical student at Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti (ABUAD), She is a writer on multiple blogs and also teaches creative writing. She is the brain behind the writing outfit - Write with Mary. She is a mental health advocate, who seeks to educate the public on the truth about mental health and its challenges.