Loneliness, A Health Hazard
“I am a lonely person
I have many people around me
But the feeling of loneliness
It’s deeply seated in me
The birds are chirping
I can hear the voices
My kids are chatting around
But I feel lonely,
I am a lonely person……“
Poem by Asma Khan
What is loneliness? How is it defined?
Loneliness is a feeling of sadness because of a perceived lack of companionship, friendship, or any social bond or relationship. Sometimes people have friends but still feel lonely because they don’t feel fully seen or understood.
What is the leading cause of loneliness?
Low self-esteem and depression cause loneliness.) contributing factors to loneliness include physical isolation, moving to a new location, and divorce. The death of someone significant in a person’s life can also lead to feelings of loneliness.
The word, lonely, is used here. It has nothing to do with being alone. As the poem above states, it’s possible to be surrounded by people, even loved ones, yet feel lonely.
In reality, loneliness is a state of mind. In that state of mind, people feel empty, alone, and unwanted. Lonely people often want human contact. Still, their state of mind makes it more difficult to form connections with other people. Loneliness is a damaging state of mind. It damages one’s mental and physical health.
For twenty years, John Cacioppo, Ph.D. and clinical psychologist, has studied loneliness. He is the co-author of a recent book, “Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection.” The book’s central theme is that loneliness causes physical illness. For example, studies show that social isolation and loneliness increase the flow of stress hormones. Stress hormones are those that make us alert when danger is present.
When someone is lonely, they produce stress hormones with no real threat. As a result, the immune system is damaged, causing a vulnerability to viral diseases. The impact on the cardiovascular system is such that it leads to stroke and heart attack. Blood pressure increases, sleep is disturbed, and the aging process speeds up. The chronic stress caused by loneliness can even hasten the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
According to Dr. Cacioppo, some of the adverse effects of loneliness are:
* Depression and suicide
* Cardiovascular disease and stroke
* Increased stress levels
* Decreased memory and learning
* Antisocial behavior
* Poor decision-making
* Alcoholism and drug abuse
* The progression of Alzheimer’s disease
* Altered brain function.”
James J. Lynch, Ph.D., published a brilliant book a few years ago called “A Cry Unheard.” What is significant about the message Dr. Lynch conveys is that loneliness results from failure to communicate, engage in discourse, and be committed to each other and the community.
In addition, Dr. Lynch clarifies it is not merely talking that makes up communication but the type of talk vitally crucial to human health. He coins the phrase “toxic talk” to describe a speech that destroys the other person’s self-esteem and well-being. The destruction of that self-esteem leads to loneliness and early heart disease, followed by death. Criticism, negativity, lack of praise, warm feelings, rejection, and other factors that increase alienation and distance between people characterize toxic talk. According to Dr. Lynch, toxic talk increases social isolation and leads to early death.
Listed are a few suggestions that Dr. Cacioppo provides on how to overcome loneliness:
1. Recognize that loneliness is a sign that something needs to change.
2. Understand the effects of loneliness on your physical and mental life.
3. Consider doing community service or another activity that you enjoy. These situations present tremendous opportunities to meet people and cultivate new friendships and social interactions.
4. Focus on developing quality relationships with people who share similar attitudes, interests, and values with you.
5. Expect the best. Lonely people often expect rejection, so instead, focus on positive thoughts and attitudes in your social relationships.
How do you cope when you feel lonely?