What are the psychological effects of loneliness?

by cadabamshospital

30 January,2018 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

It doesn’t really come as a shock to people these days when someone says “I feel lonely”, which is usually followed by some advice such as “Oh get over it, everyone is lonely at times. The thing is, that may be true, but there is more complexity to the matter than what meets the eye. For starters, loneliness is a psychological condition that can affect one’s mental health in the worst-case scenario, and is also linked with deteriorating physical health at times.

Research shows that it affects people of all ages, but adolescents and the elderly are more likely to experience loneliness and have an increased risk for it. So before we delve into how it affects people, what exactly is it?

What is loneliness?

Loneliness (definition) is the term used to describe feelings when the need for social connection isn’t met, for whatever reason. There needs to be a distinction made here between loneliness and solitude. While the latter is voluntarily taken up as usually has a positive impact for people who like being alone, the former isn’t voluntary usually and doesn't have positive impacts.

There are usually reasons for social isolation, such as the need for relaxation, creative pursuits, reflection, or just to be alone away from people. Loneliness, in the worst affected cases, can lead to anxiety and depression as well. 

What makes someone lonely?

Feelings of loneliness, more often than not, are due to a change in external circumstances- perhaps experienced when changing schools, jobs, cities, or starting to live alone for the first time. The adjustment is easy for some people, but for others, it may not be as easy, as meaningful relationships are hard to build and maintain. In the year 2020, more people have felt lonely as compared to before because of the need for time to be alone and social distancing.

This is also the case even if one isn’t in a new environment if one just doesn’t fit into the place they are in. One can feel lonely even when they are surrounded by people- it is not the presence of the people that can take away the feeling of loneliness alone.

It can also arise in case one is present in the company of people that are unlike you, so you tend to feel left out of things and thus, lonely. And of course, the absence of/death of loved ones and family members can also make one feel lonely. 

Types of Loneliness

These are usually situationally caused or environmentally triggered. Some types can include the following:

  1. Unfamiliar situation loneliness- If one has ventured into a new workplace, or if we are moving in with someone new, or if one moves into a new city. Being the new person in any kind of place is never easy, and this is usually a very common type.
  2. Being mismatched loneliness- If one happens to be in a place which is the same they have been in for a while, but the people around are not a fit for them. Feeling isolated from people while being with people, usually because of a difference or two between the individual and the group. In a smoking culture, if one doesn’t smoke, they could feel left out or maybe they just don’t connect with these people they work with. 
  3. Lover-less loneliness- The lack of an intimate partner or the loss of one is the cause of this kind of loneliness. What usually adds to this is being around people who are in relationships or constantly talking about their partners. This could even happen if one doesn’t feel connected to their partner. 
  4. Animal loneliness- This is also quite common if one happens to be an animal lover. The loss of a pet can naturally lead to one feeling lonely, especially if one depended on them for support. 
  5. Lack of genuine connection loneliness- This can take place if one is surrounded by people who are nice, but they just don’t want to make a deeper connection with you. Most common in the workplace or a school setting, wherein people are just there to do their job and then leave, which leaves one wanting more out of the relationship
  6. Disloyal friendships- If one has to doubt the kind of friendship one has, and also whether or not they are loyal to you, that can definitely be a source of loneliness. One can feel lonely despite having friends. 

What can be done?

There are several things one can implement to make changes that can lead to a more fulfilling life. For starters, getting into a healthy exercise habit can help- it doesn’t make one less lonely, but the rush of endorphins and adrenaline are associated with wellbeing.

Finding communities that one can relate to is also a good way to counter loneliness. These can be found online if the ones around are not what you are interested in. Starting a new hobby of any sort, such as painting, drawing, reading, anything that one can engage with to keep oneself busy can be very helpful in these cases.

Perhaps getting to know one’s neighbors, reaching out to the baristas who make your coffees, engaging with your professor after class can be a way to make new bonds with people who you never knew could be lovely! Naturally, the key is to make meaningful contact, and not forceful contact- one should engage in these things because they like to, not because they ought to.

Even the idea of talking to random strangers (in an appropriate manner!) can be worth it sometimes! Make active schedules to meet people, either over the call or video call, or better, in person. Use social networks wisely to create communities around you. 

In Conclusion

Feeling lonely is something that most people have experienced at some point of time in their lives. While it is usually not life-threatening in most cases, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t something that doesn’t need our care and attention. There is no doubt that there are many benefits to not being lonely, and there is a need for us as a society to help and come together with people in these times.

Everyone is in need of meaningful interactions and social relationships of some kind, whether we want to admit it or not. It is something that can lead to graver problems in the future if not addressed evenly in time. Reach out to people if you feel the need to, for you, are not alone in this.  

FAQ

  1. What is loneliness?

    Ans: Loneliness is an emotion that occurs when a person's desire for social interaction is not satisfied, for whatever cause. There must be a difference established between loneliness and isolation in this case. While the latter is generally voluntary and has a good influence on those who enjoy being alone, the former is not usually voluntary and has no positive impact.
  2. What is a major reason behind loneliness?

    Ans. Loneliness is more frequently than not caused by a change in external circumstances, such as moving schools, jobs, cities, or beginning to live alone for the first time.

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