Understanding and overcoming the effects of loneliness; A scientific guide

July 23, 2020 11 min read

Loneliness is a universal human emotion. It is the negative feeling that occurs when your need for social connection is not met. However, it differs from one person to another, making it a complex and unique problem to solve. One doesn’t need to be physically alone to feel lonely. In fact, many individuals who come in for therapy state that they feel alone even when they are in the middle of familiar faces.

Another irony is that the technology that is meant to increasingly connect us through social media,  chats, and video calling is driving us into more loneliness and depression [1] ✅ Trusted Source Yavich, R., Davidovitch, N., & Frenkel, Z. (2019). Social Media and Loneliness--Forever Connected?. Higher Education Studies, 9(2), 10-21. Open Reference

Understanding the mental and emotional side of loneliness is important in conquering it. There are many psychological and physical risks associated with loneliness. If left unchecked, it could lead to severe problems including depression and other chronic illnesses.

Why do we feel lonely?

Loneliness can be a product of many underlying psychological disturbances. However, there are some common patterns that can be noted in people affected by loneliness. Here are a few of them.

Inability to accept changes

Changes are a part of our life. Changes in school or workplace, moving to a new town, ending a relationship, or even working from home are examples of the many changes that most of us have to face in the course of our lives.  Accepting these changes and moving on over time is the best way to deal with such circumstances. Unfortunately, some of us find it hard to do so and end up feeling alone. 

Lack of meaningful relationships

Feeling alienated and alone even after having a lot of friends and being socially active all the time can make you lonely. Meaningful relationships are essential for human existence. It is when we fail to reach out for help or have open conversations with someone that we create a lasting bond with someone [2] ✅ Trusted Source Wheeler, L., Reis, H., & Nezlek, J. B. (1983). Loneliness, social interaction, and sex roles. Journal of Personality and social Psychology, 45(4), 943. Open Reference . This is the base needed to build meaningful relationships.

Living with health issues

The stigma surrounding health issues-especially mental disorders can contribute to loneliness. People with such issues seem to keep themselves away as they believe that such conditions could make them appear repulsive to others around them.

What are the health risks associated with loneliness?

Whatever the reasons may be, loneliness is undoubtedly harmful to us and holds many health risk issues. It can have far-reaching effects on both physical and mental wellbeing. Feeling alone or left out can also trigger many other toxic habits too. 

Here are some of the negative effects associated with loneliness. 

Chronic illness

According to a 2017 study, it was revealed that people suffering from social isolation and loneliness may have more chances of getting cardiovascular diseases, worsened mental health, and a higher risk of early death [3] ✅ Trusted Source Leigh-Hunt, N., Bagguley, D., Bash, K., Turner, V., Turnbull, S., Valtorta, N., & Caan, W. (2017). An overview of systematic reviews on the public health consequences of social isolation and loneliness. Public Health, 152, 157-171. Open Reference . Emotional distress, high cholesterol, diabetes, and depression are some of the other issues linked with it.

Sleep disorder

Loneliness can make your sleep quality poor [4] ✅ Trusted Source Yu, B., Steptoe, A., Niu, K., Ku, P. W., & Chen, L. J. (2018). Prospective associations of social isolation and loneliness with poor sleep quality in older adults. Quality of Life Research, 27(3), 683-691. Open Reference . This can lead to many difficulties, including functioning effectively during the day. Lack of sleep can also cause insomnia, weight gain, digestive problems, and the overall quality of your life.

Depression

Prolonged periods of loneliness can have a moderately significant impact on depression risk [5] ✅ Trusted Source Erzen, E., & Çikrikci, Ö. (2018). The effect of loneliness on depression: A meta-analysis. International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 64(5), 427-435. Open Reference . Internalized stigma serves as the main reason that leads to depression and loneliness. Chronic loneliness is commonly seen in patients suffering from moderate and clinical depression.

How can we overcome the feeling of being alone?

Loneliness can be effectively overcome with the right steps. It requires constant effort and the mindset to make a change. Always keep in mind that changes can make your life happier, healthier, and worth living.

Here are some effective tips to prevent loneliness.

Engage in activities that you enjoy

Volunteer for activities that can help you find opportunities to meet new people. Engage with new people, build friendships, and talk to them about how you are feeling about something. Meaningful social interactions can help you from being lonely.

Look at loneliness as a sign

If you are feeling lonely then understand that it is just a warning sign. Recognizing it and making the efforts to remove it can prevent loneliness from creating further damage. Reevaluate yourself from time to time and make the necessary changes to help you feel calm and happy.

Focus on positive thoughts

Thoughts that evoke sadness can pull you back from others. It can prevent you from seeking help from opening up to someone. Believe that everything can be made better. Instead of expecting rejection in your social relationships, look at the bright side, and have a positive attitude towards everything.

Cultivate valuable relationships 

Meaningful relationships can make life more meaningful. Find like-minded people with similar values, hobbies, or choices. Interact more with them and you will feel more accepted and positive. Don’t hold back to ask for help, if you need it. Keep in mind that everyone is weak in one thing or the other. But by helping each other, we all can go a long way in life.

Cite this article as: Winona Silverman, "Understanding and overcoming the effects of loneliness; A scientific guide," in Guide My Mind, July 23, 2020, https://guidemymind.com/2020/07/overcome-loneliness/.
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