Loneliness is something that many people feel, but few can define. We all have a need to connect with others, and when it feels as if we’re not connecting in a meaningful way, loneliness can set in.
How do we identify loneliness? How do we fight it and replace it with feelings that fill us up, not hold us back? This article provides some ideas on what to do when you’re feeling burdened by loneliness.
Is Loneliness A Problem?
We all feel loneliness from time to time. It’s part of the human experience.
When we’re missing a friend or relative, or when we’re feeling isolated and uncomfortable with that sense of isolation, it’s not unusual to feel lonely.
Loneliness is not an issue when it’s a temporary feeling that eventually passes, giving way to more satisfying feelings of fulfillment, engagement, and being present.
But when loneliness becomes a prevalent, ongoing experience in your life, it can lead to other problems, including the following:
- A state of anxiety or stress
- Deep sadness or depression
- Feelings of low self-worth
- Substance abuse to try to fill a void
- A range of possible mental health issues, including paranoia
- Physical health conditions, including symptoms of pain or illness
- Issues with sleep patterns or eating disorders
- Retreating from the world
- Risky or dangerous behavior
Identifying Pervasive Loneliness
It’s not always about being alone or missing someone.
Many people feel perfectly content being alone. They enjoy the solitude, even thrive in it. Time spent alone can be very rewarding, relaxing, and rejuvenating.
Loneliness is not always associated with wanting to be with a specific person. For many individuals, the sense of missing somebody can easily be alleviated by sending that person a text, email, or card, or picking up the phone and calling to say hello.
Pervasive loneliness is about feeling distressed or uncomfortable as a result of a perceived gap between our desire for social connection and the way we actually experience these connections.
In other words, loneliness is found in our perception of lack. That sense of lack can lead to emotional, mental, and even physical pain. Something feels missing, and we don’t always know what it is or how to fill that gap.
Feeling Lonely Even When Surrounded By Others
The “cure” to loneliness isn’t always about surrounding yourself with many people. You can be immersed in a large group and still feel a deep sense of loneliness.
You can be in a long-term, satisfying relationship and feel loneliness. You can be at a social gathering where people are talking to you and everyone seems to be having fun, but you feel a deep sense of loneliness. You may be surrounded by caring, thoughtful people at work, school, or home, and struggle with loneliness regardless.
So it’s not about whether or not you’re around other people. It’s more about your perceived connection to others and the way you measure the quality of your interactions.
The UCLA Loneliness Scale
Since loneliness can be described in different ways by different people, it sometimes helps to identify it through a scale that considers subjective feelings of loneliness.
The UCLA Loneliness Scale is an attempt to measure loneliness to better identify it. It is only one of many tools used to identify loneliness, but it serves as a helpful one for many people.
The scale asks individuals how frequently they experience certain conditions, whether never, rarely, sometimes, or often. The resulting score provides an indication as to the likelihood that the individual is experiencing pervasive loneliness.
People gauging their level of loneliness through this scale respond to statements such as these:
- I lack companionship
- People are around me but not with me
- There are people I feel close to
- I am unhappy being so withdrawn
The questions are mixed, with some pointing to possible loneliness and others pointing to a level of satisfaction with current social interactions. It is not one-sided, as it tries to gain a clear picture of the depth and breadth of a person’s sense of loneliness.
Loneliness And Mental Health
One thing that health specialists do know is that an ongoing, persistent state of feeling lonely can lead to, or contribute to, mental health issues.
For example, a study on loneliness published in the Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research in 2014 notes a relationship between loneliness and psychiatric disorders. Some of the study’s findings include:
- Loneliness can lead to a number of disorders, including depression, alcohol abuse, and personality disorders, among others
- Left untended, loneliness can seriously impact people’s mental and physical wellbeing
- Situational loneliness can stem from environmental factors, interpersonal conflicts, abrupt changes, tragedies, and a wide range of situational scenarios
- Developmental loneliness comes from feelings of personal inadequacies, as well as physical and physiological conditions
- Internal loneliness comes from mental distress, feelings of guilt or isolation, lack of resilience, low self-esteem, and similar factors
- Intervention to address and prevent loneliness is important
- Loneliness and depression share some common symptoms, including pain and a sense of helplessness
Because long-term, significant loneliness can impair a person’s mental outlook, it’s important to seek out help to avoid developing mental health issues.
Loneliness Is Found In All Demographics
People of all ages battle with loneliness. From children and teens to the elderly, and every stage in between, many people can, and do, experience chronic loneliness, with symptoms such as these:
- Difficulty connecting with others on a deeper emotional level
- Lack of fulfillment when interacting with people
- Not feeling close to anyone
- Feeling that there’s nobody around who “gets” you
- A sense of isolation and disengagement even in the presence of groups of people
- Experiencing self-doubt and similar negative feelings
- Feeling exhausted when trying to engage with others socially
Loneliness affects people of all backgrounds, regardless of race, culture, gender, or belief system. You can feel extremely lonely whether you’re rich, poor, or somewhere in the middle-class socio-economic range.
Chronic loneliness can affect introverts and extroverts alike. Any personality type can experience a pervasive sense of loneliness.
Loneliness Is A Condition Of Perception
In a significant way, the condition of loneliness correlates to an individual’s perception of it. But just because it’s subjective doesn’t make it any less real.
Your day-to-day reality is shaped, in large part, by how you perceive your world. If your perception is that you’re feeling left out by people you know casually or closely, that there is nobody you can turn to for meaningful conversation or companionship, or you’re simply not in tune with the people around you, then that perception is your reality, regardless of what others may observe.
For some individuals, it helps to know that they are not alone, and that many others battle with similar symptoms and effects of loneliness.
Once you realize that loneliness can affect anyone, and that many people around the world experience this condition, perhaps you can find some relief. You are not alone, and there are steps you can take to fight loneliness and feel better.
Ways You Can Fight Loneliness And Thrive
If you’ve identified that you are experiencing a prevalent, ongoing sense of loneliness, there are things you can do to lessen the associated burden and start experiencing a greater sense of fulfillment, along with more satisfaction with your social interactions.
These are just some of the many ways you can tackle loneliness and start to thrive.
Override Any Negativity Bias
Evidence points to lonely people interpreting social interactions through a more negative filter. For example, when a lonely person feels rejected, it may instead simply be a classic case of misunderstandings (perhaps the other person is feeling under the weather or is distracted by their own issues). When seeking out companionship, learn to override your negativity biases.
Do What You Enjoy
Engaging in activities that you enjoy can help you feel good about yourself, and these elevated feelings of contentment and enjoyment can significantly decrease your feelings of loneliness. Whether you like to garden, paint, read, listen to music, swim, ride your bike, watch movies, cook, or participate in any activity that makes you happy, dive into it and lose yourself in the joy of it.
Interact With People In Healthy Ways
Try to limit interactions with people who are critical, negative, or harsh. Find safe ways to engage with others, such as through volunteering, joining book clubs, working with people for a common cause, or joining a professional or hobby group aligned with your interests.
Get The Support You Need
Support can come in many forms. It may involve seeking out a therapist for help. It could also mean talking with your primary care physician. You may discover that joining a support group where you can open up about your loneliness can bring you a sense of meaningful connection that you seek.
Help Is Available
Most importantly, know that help is always available. You don’t have to keep struggling with feelings of chronic loneliness on your own. Whether by addressing the underlying causes of the loneliness you’re experiencing, or by developing a plan to help you emerge from loneliness into a more fulfilling life, a qualified counselor, therapist, or wellness coach can help you.
The compassionate, professional team at Tikvah Lake Recovery Center can assist you to overcome loneliness and enjoy a better life. To get started, contact us for a confidential consultation.