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?
As 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 still 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, but their state of mind makes it more challenging to connect with others. Loneliness is a damaging state of mind. It damages one’s mental and physical health.
John Cacioppo, Ph.D., and clinical psychologist, has studied loneliness for the past twenty years. 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 many physical illnesses. 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 are producing stress hormones in the absence of any real threat. As a result, the
The immune system is damaged, causing a vulnerability to viral diseases. The cardiovascular system is affected, leading to stroke and heart attack because blood pressure is increased, sleep is disturbed, and the aging process is speeded up. Chronic stress caused by loneliness can even hasten t’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 is caused by a failure to communicate, engage in discourse, and be committed to each other and the community. In addition, he clarifies it is not merely talking that makes up communication, but the type of talk that is vital to human health. He coins the phrase “toxic talk” to describe speaking that destroys the self-esteem and well-being of the other person. The destruction of that self-esteem leads to loneliness, early heart disease, and death. Criticism, negativity, lack of praise, warm feeling, rejection, and other factors that increase alienation and distance between people characterize toxic talk. According to Dr. Lynch, unwholesome talk increases social isolation and leads to premature 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 that loneliness has on your life, both physically and mentally.
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.
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