One of the more prevalent issues of our generation is around the concept of loneliness. This particular emotion is responsible for not only the degradation of a person’s mental health, but it can also lead to physical issues as well.
Many physical conditions have been attributed to loneliness, including Alzheimer’s disease progression, altered brain functions including a change in memory and an increase in stress, and a decrease in memory and learning. These particular changes within the brain and behaviour can also lead us to make poor choices or rely on substances such as alcohol and drugs which feed mental health conditions such as depression and suicidal ideation.
This myriad of symptoms shows the complete, devastating effect that loneliness can have on a person. It seems highly ironic that in an age that has a multitude of different ways to communicate with one another, we still have the condition of loneliness. In fact, a 10-year study recently concluded that if you engage with social media, you’re 52% more likely to become lonely as well. It is also estimated that since the year of 1985, the chances of becoming lonely in one of the biggest countries in the world, the United States of America, has trebled.
You may be wondering why the statistics have come about, and maybe the reasons why people find themselves in an isolated situation.
Common reasons behind loneliness
- relationship issues
- social anxiety - especially the fear of rejection
- the person who helps everybody else, but negates their own personal and emotional development (i.e. a person who prioritises everybody else’s needs above their own)
- maintaining unhealthy relationships
- death of a spouse or loved one
- suffering from other mental health issues
- intellectual isolation
- affluence and apathy
- living situations
- the way in which society has changed from being a very close community to a very distant one
- loss of focus, self-worth, or self-confidence
- people being too terrified to engage in traditional conversation in case they cause offence/are rejected by the other party
I think that, with the swift embracing of new technologies, we have discovered fantastic ways in which to revolutionise the world, and equally within that divine inspiration, the human condition has created very unique and specific issues.
One of the most common issues I often find with people when changes enter their lives is that they often crave what came before. For example, a couple suddenly become parents and realise that their relationship is a little bit more distant than before. Naturally, this will occur because they are now subjected to being independent for the first time. What they have forgotten to do, however, is reconnect on the level in which they entered the relationship in the first place. The same premise can be applied to loneliness. For example, people demand not to be lonely, but they forget the actions in which they undertook to not be lonely in the first place.
A person who has become extremely withdrawn from society has, in essence, forgotten how to engage with that society, be it through their own choice, their own misfortune, or a failure to interact with society. This is where mental health issues arise with loneliness, because if you imagine someone who has just lost their spouse of 53 years, it would be fair to say that this couple did everything with one another, and now the surviving party has to renegotiate communicating with the world on their own terms, and, quite sadly, by themselves.
As an extension of this example, let us say that this particular spouse is a gentleman; he has become frustrated and he is angry with the world, and therefore most of his interactions with society are angry. Society might take a dim view of his anger, not understanding the cause of his pain. Therefore, another particular method that counselling can offer is an independent person who can talk and help you get through the barrier of your communication problems while helping you renegotiate with the world on your own terms.
Another way that you can participate with combating loneliness is to have short, meaningful conversations with people. As human beings, we crave connections with one another. The good news is that you can engage in effective activity by doing something useful such as volunteering, or being part of a group that shares an interest, for example, a dance troupe or a drama group. Another thing that you can do to seriously help your loneliness is to reduce the pressure you're putting on yourself, not only in terms of emotional ability to connect with somebody but also external pressures such as examinations, workload etc.
The first step to combating loneliness must be taken by the individual. Whether that is making your connection with a person or seeking counselling, the first step will indeed be the hardest, but also the most rewarding when it pays off. You never know - it might extend your life.