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The causes and effects of loneliness — and how to cope with it for a healthier state of mind

Loneliness can lead to feelings of depression and anxiety as well as heart problems and low immunity. Read on to know more.
Loneliness is a state of mind where one feels isolated and disconnected from others. Image courtesy: Pexels
Anjuri Nayar Singh Published: 26 May 2024, 11:30 pm IST
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Human beings are social creatures, and our nature demands us to interact with other people. While everyone enjoys some amount of solitude, too much of it can turn to loneliness very quickly. The feeling of wanting to be in company, wanting someone to interact with, but not having anyone available is what defines loneliness. A state of mind, loneliness can often lead you to feel unwanted. It can also lead to more serious issues such as anxiety, depression, stroke and even heart disease in extreme cases.

A study published in the Lancet suggests that one-third of people in industrialised countries suffer from loneliness. One person in every 12 people can have severe symptoms too. Read on to know more about loneliness, and how to combat it.

What is loneliness?

While one may feel that loneliness has to do with having no one around you to interact with, it is not quite that. Loneliness is a state of mind. It is a distressing experience that stems from our perception of being isolated, and can also refer to the gap between the social interaction we want, and what we get, in reality, states this research titled Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation, conducted by US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.

Murthy further elaborates that loneliness can have physical consequences. He says that the risk of premature death in a lonely person increases by 26 percent.

Explaining the concept of loneliness, psychiatrist Dr Ajit Dandekar says, “It is all about how you feel. If you feel that you are alone, then you are lonely. This is how it is different from social isolation. Social isolation is when we are isolated socially from the community.”

Why do we feel lonely?

There can be many reasons why a person may feel lonely. Here are a few causes of loneliness:

1. Physical isolation

Physical isolation such as moving to a new city or country, getting married, or even getting divorced can lead to feelings of loneliness. A study, published in Psychosomatic Medicine, states that couples who have undergone separation or divorce can often experience loneliness. Interventions must be done to help people understand how to “let go”. A loss of a close one can also lead to you feeling lonely, even if you are surrounded by a lot of people, states this study, published in Frontiers in Psychology.

2. Symptom of depression

Loneliness can be felt by people who suffer from depression. When one is depressed, one may withdraw socially, and be alone most of the time. This can often culminate in a feeling of isolation. Loneliness can lead to depression as well. Loneliness is a significant variable that can affect depression, states this study, published in the International Journal of Social Psychiatry.

3. Low self esteem

When we suffer from low self-esteem, we don’t want to be surrounded by too many people. This can often lead to one feeling lonely. People who are not confident of themselves, feel that they don’t deserve other people’s time and attention. The social anxiety that people face can also lead to low self-esteem and loneliness, states a study, published in the International Journal of Psychological Studies.

Loneliness can often lead to feelings of depression and anxiety. Image courtesy: Pexels

4. Introvert personality

If you are an introvert, that can be a cause for you to feel lonely as well. An introvert is less likely to be surrounded by social connections. This can make them feel isolated and alone. A study, published in Health Psychology Open, suggests that people assume that if you are an introvert, you don’t need as much social connection. However, during the Covid-19 lockdown, it was seen that social isolation for introverts was not easier than it was for people with extrovert personalities. Introverts also experience a positive impact after socialising, however, they find it difficult to find, recognise and utilise social support. This can lead to them feeling lonely.

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Effects of loneliness

Loneliness can have multiple side effects on your physical and mental health. Here are some of the consequences of loneliness, as listed by US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It states that lonely people are at a higher risk of premature death. Besides this, loneliness can also be associated with the reasons for developing depression, anxiety, and even leading to suicide. It can also lead to prolonged illnesses such as heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and a weakened immune system. It was also stated that heart patients who were reported to be lonely had a four times increased risk of death. They also had a 68 per cent increased risk of needing hospitalisation, according to this study titled Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults.

What is the difference between loneliness and social isolation?

Social isolation and loneliness are different and cannot be used interchangeably. Social isolation is when you have few social relationships. You are not part of too many social groups and don’t have many social interactions. Loneliness, on the other hand, is the gap between the social connections that an individual may want to have and the social connections that he may have in reality. Social connection refers to the number of people you have in your inner circle, who you can lean on, and have a relationship with.

How to deal with loneliness?

If you have been feeling lonely, there are some ways that you can adopt to feel better. You can join a hobby group or a class. “Having the option of interacting with people in a more structured environment, such as a class, can often make it easier for one to find like-minded people. You might end up with some great friendships,” says Dr Dandekar.

trying to connect with loves ones or joining support groups online can help combat loneliness. Image courtesy: Pexels

You can also seek support online. “There are several support groups online which can help you deal with your feelings. When you speak to people who are dealing with the same issues such as you, you are more transparent,” says Dr Dandekar. These groups offer a great platform for getting to know more people as well.

Besides this practising self-care can also help you feel better. “Just taking care of yourself, and your needs can often help people cope with the feelings of despair and being lonely,” says Dr Dandekar. Read more to understand how to deal with loneliness.

Summary

You can be surrounded by people and still feel isolated and lonely. Loneliness is a state of mind which does not allow you to be satisfied with the social interactions you currently have. It can often lead to serious problems of depression, anxiety and even premature death and suicide. Therefore, it is very important to recognise why you are feeling lonely and find a way to overcome it.

Anjuri Nayar Singh

Anjuri Nayar Singh has over 12 years of experience in writing for various topics including lifestyle, films, television and OTT. She also writes on art and culture, education and human interest stories. ...Read More

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