“No man is an island.” This line from the John Donne’s prose “Meditation XVII, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions” may have grown trite and archaic over the centuries; nevertheless, it still holds the universal truth that man is a social animal…man needs social relations to thrive and be happy.
Loneliness is the result of being detached from or deprived of meaningful social relations. It is a universal emotion; yet, its effects and symptoms are as individualistic as the people who harbour it.
Loneliness does not stem from just being alone. Some people can live alone and still have the security of belongingness. Some can be surrounded by people everyday yet feel no particular connections with anyone. Loneliness is a growing modern social problem with psychological repercussions.
What Loneliness Means
Loneliness is a perceived social isolation. The physical state of being alone does not define loneliness. A person’s perception of being utterly alone and on his own is what marks him as being truly lonely. Sporadic sadness does not make loneliness either. Loneliness is a permeating emotion.
If a person cannot connect meaningfully with others, despite the numbers surrounding him at work, populating his Facebook friends list, or teeming within his family, then he faces loneliness.
For Whom the Lonely Bells Toll
In the U.K., the groups most at risk for being in a state of loneliness are on one hand, the student group between 18-24 years old and on the other, senior citizens. Research reveals that the student group has a higher percentage of lonely people than the senior group. Lots of life changes such as going away to college, starting a job, and starting a family may be very unsettling, despite the positive views these changes are supposed to have. Seniors can get lonesome with life transitions too such as retirement, being away from their kids, illness, and death of a loved one.
It is actually disconcerting to believe that about 5 million people in the U.K. feel they have no close ties or real friends. This looks like Britain has an epidemic of lonely people. According to John Bingham’s article on the Telegraph, most workers have less contact with friends and family than they do their bosses and colleagues. Yet 4 in 10 reveal that they have not made real, close ties with these colleagues at work. Marriage does not also guarantee an effective barrier to loneliness. In fact, 1 in 5 says that they do not feel loved.
The Dangers of Loneliness
Loneliness debilitates and damages physical health. Studies have shown that chronic feelings of loneliness especially in older adults can compromise the immune system and cause cellular inflammation. The combination of these two effects may prove to be potentially lethal as these leaves the body open to a lot of degenerative problems and all sorts of diseases.
Loneliness can also hasten cognitive decline in seniors. Research has established a link between loneliness, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease.
What to Do
You can help yourself overcome and keep loneliness at bay by:
1. Learning something new
Join a class or get into a new hobby. Embarking on a new activity opens up new venues and new people to meet. You may make new friends as your new lessons provide you all with the same common ground over which to bond.
2. Taking the initiative to connect
If you want to make friends, don’t wait for others to go first. It may be daunting to make first contact but here is where being shy won’t help. Remember, you are trying to be physically and mentally healthy so get your social connections. Not all may respond as you like, but there has got to be some people out there who would be glad to meet you.
3. Talking to someone you trust
Talk to someone you trust about your loneliness. Talking it out helps you alleviate negative moods. Lacking a good friend or trusted family member, talk to someone who would be partial to your frame of mind. He can be your counsellor, priest, pastor, teacher, or anyone whom you think can minister to you. It is important that you connect socially.
4. Focus on someone who needs you
Being lonely often makes one concentrate only on one’s self. Since you understand loneliness now, why not shift your focus to others and offer them your support. Doing something good for someone can do wonders to your self esteem and moods. Volunteer at a local charity where you will be afforded a lot of social rapport with people who need an emotional boost more than you do. You may find that you have helped yourself out of the loneliness rut by helping others.