Feelings of loneliness can have a significant impact on our emotional and psychological health as some people struggle to and experience challenges connecting with others. It is essential to note loneliness and being alone are two separate things, with two completely different meanings. Being alone is a state of being; loneliness is a state of mind. Loneliness often implies one is looking for someone or something in order to feel secure and happy, as there are feelings of being incomplete without it. Loneliness, instead, refers to the difference between the amount of social contact and intimacy you have and the amount you want. It’s about feeling isolated from others.
Other contributing factors include situational variables, such as physical isolation, loss of friend, change in friendship (marriage, children, demanding job, etc.), moving to a new location and divorce. Loneliness can also be a symptom of a psychological disorder such as depression.
Chronic and persistent feelings of loneliness is not only emotionally painful, but it can be more damaging to our physical and mental health than many psychiatric illnesses. For instance, lonely people sleep poorly, suffer from depression, may develop other maladaptive techniques to mitigate the feelings of loneliness, i.e., overeating, smoking, drinking, etc.
Nonmedicinal methods to help alleviate the feelings of loneliness include:
- Building or enhancing social skills- Sometimes the barriers to meeting and establishing a relationship with others can be affected by the approach. Individuals that are not comfortable in social settings can present as awkward, arrogant, and even unapproachable, this can most likely be attributed to the individual not wanting to come across as lonely, needy, or being embarrassed.
- Increasing opportunities for social engagement- Whenever there is a perception we may not be received well by others we tend to avoid situations where there are large groups involved. However, just the opposite should occur. The more you meet and engage with others the more likely are you to hone your social skills, appearing more approachable.
- Employ thought blocking techniques- Whenever you experience feelings or fears that have no concrete bases whenever you attempt to socialize with others redirect your thoughts onto more positive topics. Do not ruminate on maladaptive thoughts as this creates additional anxiety and fears. If you find the thoughts are upsetting immediately change your train of thought to prevent it from becoming more intense and elaborate.
- Do not dwell on negative social engagement- Feelings of not fitting in or being socially awkward can force us to concentrate on things that aren’t really important such as the negative aspects of socializing. Lonely individuals tend to pay excessive amounts of attention to negative social information or perceived acts (disagreement, conflict, or criticism), rather than positive social information and acts (humor, interesting conversation, connectedness).
Potential Health Consequences of Loneliness:
- Anxiety and or increased stress levels
- Cognition and memory issues
- Substance or alcohol related issues
- Low self-esteem
- Poor decision making
- Heart health concerns