Being alone and loneliness are different concepts. Social isolation or being alone is the objective physical separation from other people while loneliness is the subjective distressed feeling of being alone or separated even with people around. The misery and suffering caused by chronic loneliness are very real and warrant attention.
The Importance of Human Connection
We all know that socializing is funny, but what many people don’t realize is that spending time around other people also plays a role in one’s health. Studies have shown that people who have frequent real-life interaction with others tend to have better overall health, physically and mentally. That’s because as human beings we are social creatures and our connection to others enables us to survive and thrive. Yet, as we age, many of us are lonely more often than when we were younger, leaving us vulnerable to related health problems.
Going through difficult times alone, or lacking emotional support and friendships, can increase one’s anxiety and decrease one’s coping abilities. Close connection with other people is one of our greatest sources of comfort. Human contact is important!
Feeling rejected or left out psychologically wounds us more deeply than almost anything else. Neuroscientists have also shown that exclusion can lead to the feeling of actual physical pain. It increases levels of stress hormones in the body, leads to poor sleep, compromises the immune system, and causes cognitive decline, anxiety, depression, smoking and addiction, and impaired immunity. That is why solitary confinement inflicts tremendous harm on the mental health of prison inmates.
In situations of uncertainty, we need others to share information and reactions with, without them, our mind usually races to the darkest possible conclusions. So whether you prefer small, intimate gatherings or loud, boisterous parties, the important thing is to enjoy spending time around others. Having a solid social network is the key to a long and healthy life.
Healthy advantages of socializing
- It improves your mood
Many people do not like to go out and socialize when feeling down but connecting with others actually helps improve our mood and fight off depression. Face-to-face interactions also have a greater impact on our mental well-being than virtual connections.
- You sleep better
Loneliness causes you restlessness and makes you struggle to sleep even if you may not be aware that you are lonely. Fulfilling connections with others give you better sleep.
- You become more productive even at work, workers who take breaks together and socialize are more productive.
- You live longer
People with fulfilling social relationships live 50 percent longer than those who are socially isolated. Good connections encourage you to take better care of yourself and may also help you through stress.
The Harmful Effects of Social Isolation
Social isolation kills more people than obesity does. Loneliness is an experience that has been around since the beginning of time and we all experience it from time to time it can occur during life transitions such as the death of a loved one, a divorce, or a move to a new place. This kind of loneliness is called reactive loneliness as it happens after a certain event however there is what is termed chronic loneliness which is continuing in nature and goes on for a longer period of time, which can lead to premature death.
Chronic loneliness is most likely to set in when individuals either don’t have the emotional, mental, or financial resources to get out and satisfy their social needs or they lack a social circle that can provide these benefits. This loneliness can occur when people are surrounded by others, in religious gatherings, in a classroom, at work, or even in family setups. Lacking support from family or friends may slide into unhealthy habits.
Losing a sense of connection with the community changes a person’s perception of the world. Someone experiencing chronic loneliness feels threatened and mistrustful of others. Loneliness may alter the tendency of cells in the immune system to promote inflammation, which is necessary to help our bodies heal from injury. Inflammation that lasts too long increases the risk of chronic diseases.
Loneliness acts as a fertilizer for other diseases. The biology of loneliness can accelerate the build-up of plaque in arteries, help cancer cells grow and spread, and promote inflammation in the brain leading to Alzheimer’s disease. Loneliness promotes several different types of wear and tear on the body. Weakened immune cells have trouble fighting off viruses, which makes people more vulnerable to some infectious diseases,
Developing effective interventions is not a simple task because there’s no single underlying cause of loneliness. Different people may be lonely for different reasons, and so a one-size-fits-all kind of intervention is not likely to work because you need something that is going to address the underlying cause.
- Efforts to minimize loneliness can start at home, by teaching children to socialize.
- Schools can help foster environments in which children look for, identify and intervene when a peer seems lonely or disconnected from others.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) also empowers patients to recognize and deal with their negative thoughts of self-worth and how others perceive them.
- Practical interventions can focus on helping retirees to maintain their sense of purpose and belonging by assisting them to connect to groups and communities that are meaningful to them.
- Cohousing appears to be growing in popularity among young and old around the world as a way to improve social connections and decrease loneliness, among other benefits. Cohousing communities and mixed-age residences are intentionally built to bring older and younger generations together, either in whole neighborhoods within single-family homes or in larger apartment buildings, where they share dining, laundry, and recreational spaces. These living situations may also provide an antidote to loneliness, particularly among older adults.
- Social gatherings also need to be encouraged where neighbors gather for parties, games, movies, or other events.
- Helping others through caregiving or volunteering also helps people feel less lonely. Working for a social cause or purpose with others who share your values and are trusted partners puts you in contact with others and helps develop a greater sense of community.
I cannot count how many times I have heard my clients on the brink of tears because of how lonely they have felt. Loneliness can become deadly. Many have even opted to die than continue feeling as lonely as they do. Loneliness comes like a tide and leaves you gasping for breath and somewhere to hold to. With no idea how to fix it. Loneliness is a serious mental health risk. In a research done, those without adequate social interaction were twice as likely to die prematurely. The increased mortality risk is comparable to that of smoking. And loneliness is about twice as dangerous as obesity. Loneliness is the worst part of any illness.
Loneliness has increased. All of our Internet interactions aren’t helping and maybe making loneliness worse. In a society that judges you based on how expansive your social networks appear, loneliness is difficult to fess up to. It feels shameful. Admitting you are lonely is like holding a big L up on your forehead.
Most of us know what it is like to be lonely in a room full of people, which is the same reason even a celebrity can be deeply lonely. You could be surrounded by hundreds of adoring fans, but if there is no one you can rely on, no one who knows you, you will feel isolated. In terms of human interactions, the number of people we know is not the best measure of social satisfaction. In order to be socially satisfied, we don’t need all those many people. The key is in the quality, not the quantity of those people. We just need several on whom we can depend and who depend on us in return.
As a culture, we obsess over strategies to prevent obesity. We provide resources to help people quit smoking. But how much meaningful social interaction do you have? What’s the prescription for that? One of the reasons we avoid discussing loneliness is that fixing it obviously isn’t a simple endeavor.
‘Time-alone’ is a sought-after treasure. A time to think, read, and ‘do what you want to do.’ The menu is simpler, conflicts are reduced, and no one is around to question decisions made or decisions postponed. However, I am coming to understand the dangerous difference between being alone, loneliness, and isolation. Social distancing has consequences.
We all need ‘time away, it’s a sought-after treasure’. Time to seek God’s voice, reflect, relax and recover. However, social distancing has consequences. The Bible says it is not good for man to be alone. When people are alone, they struggle with burdens, anxiety, addictions, and the sorrow of opportunities lost. Temptation knocks. Loneliness enhances feelings of depression and primes the spiral of dark thoughts. Loneliness fills minds with accusations and bitterness.
Isolation can be self-inflicted, a misguided self-remedy. It also can be a dangerous weapon, used to punish another, but turns out to be mutually toxic. It is known that solitary confinement is the greatest punishment.
Healthy others are the remedy to our emotional and relational pain.
So, who are your close friends? Who do you rely on, who really knows you? If the list is blank, your schedule empty and the phone never rings, I encourage you to diligently seek out others! The cure to isolation is God-given companions.
Other measures to avoid social isolation
- Join a club or group
- Talk to your neighbors and or relatives
- Maintain your faith and attend services
- Consider adopting a pet
- Have someone teach you something new
- Volunteer in the community
- Take virtual/physical classes, discussions, and or other group activities
- Remain physically active, take walks or runs
- If you are single consider getting a roommate
- Ask for help when you need it, like speaking to a psychologist online
If you need to speak to a professional counsellor, don’t forget to get in touch with Psyche and Beyond.
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