We all experience loneliness from time to time. Some is situational, as in we may be separated from loved ones and family members for a short period due to business, travel, school or other circumstances. Some loneliness is nearly inescapable, like the unbearable sadness and loneliness we feel after a loved one dies. While loneliness is a universal phenomenon, it can also detract from the relationships you have and the ones you deserve. For some, loneliness just never seems to leave. This is especially true for adults over age 55, among whom about 32 percent report being lonely. In those over the age of 65, 20 percent say they’re always or frequently lonely.
Factors That Precipitate Loneliness
Loneliness isn’t solitude or being alone. When you are lonely, you feel empty, alone and unwanted. Often the lonely person craves the contact of other people, but because of their state of mind, they’re unable to or find it much more difficult to form these connections. People who report being persistently lonely may:
- Live alone
- Experience physical isolation, such as being separated from others by moving to a new location
- Have no one around due to divorce or death
- Suffer from an illness
- Have low self-esteem
- Have depression as a result of physical or mental health issues
Negative Health Consequences of Loneliness
When loneliness persists for an extended period of time, it can have negative health consequences. These health risks include cardiovascular disease and stroke, increased levels of stress, decreased learning and memory, antisocial behavior and depression and suicide. Poor decision-making, drug abuse and alcoholism, altered brain function and the progression of Alzheimer’s disease are other negative health consequences of persistent loneliness. Individuals who are chronically lonely tend to consume more alcohol and get less exercise than their peers who do not experience persistent loneliness, according to research. These individuals eat more foods that are higher in fat, sleep less efficiently, and feel more fatigued during the day. Cellular process regulation in the body is also disrupted by loneliness that never seems to end, which promotes premature aging.
Tips to Banish Loneliness
The good news is that there are things you can do to rid yourself of persistent loneliness. If situational, just beginning some of these proactive measures can at least minimize the level of loneliness while you continue to work on other ways to get out there and interact with people.
- Cultivate resilience. Resilience is something you can learn. Strive to bend, not break, like a young sapling that naturally leans in a strong wind, the better to withstand the force.
- Adopt an optimistic attitude. How can you be optimistic when all you feel is loneliness? Again, this is something that you can train yourself to do. Instead of seeing the glass as half empty, look on it (and life situations, by extension) as half-full. By tilting your outlook to one that’s more positive, you will begin to find opportunities and feel more motivated to overcome your isolation and be with others.
- Enrich spirituality. If you believe in God or a higher power, take the time to get in touch more deeply with your spiritual side.
- Set goals and learn how to problem solve. You need something to work on. There’s no better way to get at this than to set some workable goals for yourself. In conjunction with setting goals, learn how to solve the various problems that may stand in the way of going after those goals. Come up with alternative approaches, seek guidance and get recommendations, and make use of other resources that may be available, either one-on-one or through the Internet.
- Develop more relationships. If you lack companions, seek out new ones. Check out groups that interest you, whether that’s a hobbyist group, a recreational one, a group devoted to education, going to movies, eating out at restaurants, or volunteer groups.
- Enhance relationships you make. Focus on enhancing the quality of the relationships – the new friendships – you make. Do things more often with people you find an affinity with and who have values you share.
- Use social media, but sparingly. Social media is both a boon and a bane for people suffering from persistent loneliness. On the one hand, it can help people connect with others when they’re physically separated for long periods of time. It can also expose them to new relationships, albeit online ones. But social media cannot take the place of physical connection.
- Expect the best. Train yourself to expect the best. This means you pay it forward by acting in a proactive and positive manner and expect the same in return. Goodness tends to beget goodness, but this doesn’t mean that you should have blinders to others who may not be as forthcoming or positive.
In the end, persistent loneliness can be overcome. If you try these tips and still find that you can’t escape loneliness, consider seeking professional help. A medical checkup can rule out many conditions or pinpoint an area that needs addressing. From there, a course of therapy or other recommended action can be determined. Don’t resign yourself to always being lonely. Resolve to make some changes and then spring into action.