What do you mean when you say you feel lonely? It’s more than just being in a place where no one’s around you. Loneliness is seen as a serious mental disorder by researchers. Because of its seriousness, government-backed anti-loneliness campaigns have been launched in several countries like the UK, Denmark, and Australia since 2018. So why is loneliness a serious mental disorder and what causes people to experience it?
By definition, loneliness is defined as an unpleasant emotional response to perceived isolation or the state of mind where people decide to be alone. In simpler words, it is a situation where you don’t have a shoulder to lean or someone to openly talk to. The challenging part is that loneliness is something that we can’t generalize. Every person facing loneliness has to be treated uniquely. For example, a student going to college experiencing loneliness will need to be considered differently than an elderly individual who lost their spouse recently. It’s important to note that loneliness can occur even if a person is surrounded by people. It is the state of mind rather than surroundings that play a crucial role.
The main causes for loneliness include:
- Moving to a new location.
- Sudden death of a family member.
- Harrowing experiences from friends.
- Social anxiety.
There are also two other forms of loneliness. First, some people who deliberately refrain from social relationships due to a lack of confidence in themselves. This creates fear inside them and a feeling that they are not worthy enough of the attention or consideration of other people.
Second, there are some people who wish to be alone. This can be due to reasons such as finding loneliness more safe, being an introvert, having no interest in meetings, and socializing with new people. These people don’t see loneliness as a mental disorder. Rather, they see it as a solution to most of their problems and are not very interested in what happens around them as long as it doesn’t affect them.
Signs of Loneliness
If someone around you is lonely or you believe you may be suffering from loneliness, it is good to recognize the signs so you can diagnose and work on improving your mental health. Common signs include:
- Spending a lot of time alone. This sign is not hard to spot. Take a simple situation. When a group of people decide to go out together to have lunch, lonely people will often refrain from such activities thinking that they don’t deserve others’ company or because they are too afraid thinking of what may happen if they don’t fit in. In addition, lonely people might also be not invited to hang out as often and this can also be a sign that someone is suffering from loneliness. Of course, at the same time, it can’t be said that all people who refrain from going out with people are all lonely. Sometimes people just like to enjoy their own company and spend time alone.
- Losing their temper easily. The reason that people suffering from loneliness lose their temper is because they are so used to their daily routine that even a single deviation can cause anxiety or frustration to them. Such behaviours are often noticed in groups when people lose their temper for small things. This can even be one of the reasons why lonely people refuse to go out with people in the first place.
- Holding onto the negatives. Most of the time, it is hard for lonely people to let go of the negative experiences in their life, whether it had a small or large impact. It’s because they don’t have anyone in their life to share their experiences with. Sometimes, all they need is someone to explain the situation or to offer a listening ear for them to complain about the person or situation that has negatively affected them.
There are several associated risks including:
- Decreased memory.
- Poor decision-making.
- Alcoholism and drug abuse.
- Suicide and depression.
- Increased stress.
- Antisocial behavior.
Although these issues are also found in people not suffering from loneliness, if these problems are experienced by lonely individuals, the impact can be far worse. Most of the time, these problems are best overcome with the help of another individual, usually someone who is a close friend or family. While lonely people can work on their own to overcome these problems, it is often far more practical and easier to do it with help, especially in the case of suicidal thoughts, depression, alcoholism, and drug abuse. Because of this, if you think someone else is lonely, please try to reach out to them or refer them to our mentors, so that we can overcome their mental health problems.
Apart from the risks mentioned above, some people also develop eating disorders along with these mental disorders. they tend to consume more fatty food, putting on weight and disrupting the cellular process of the body, and to exercise less. These can lead to the individual experiencing daytime fatigue and premature ageing.
Solutions for You
So what can you do about loneliness? While solutions might appear simple at first glance, it’s often hard for the individuals to follow new practices during the first few weeks, months or maybe even years. This can be due years of being alone, getting used to the daily routine of not talking to anyone, doing things on your own, and avoiding people. So be patient with yourself.
- Talk with like-minded people. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to talk to every single person that you meet. That would be pointless. Having just 3 or 4 close friends in your life is more than enough to eliminate loneliness. People who never feel lonely are not the ones who have the most number of friends or meet a lot of people. It’s important to know people who have similar interests, attitudes and values. The hardest part is beginning to talk or socialize with people. Once you do that, things will become easier and better.
- Ask for help to break the cycle. Since loneliness can be addicting for some people, people who experience loneliness might want to stay that way forever. You feel that you don’t require help from anyone and even if you do, your mind won’t allow you to ask for it. This may lead to long-term depression and the progression of Alzheimer’s disease which is really dangerous. The solution to this problem is to ask for help whenever necessary. Asking for help is something that you should never be ashamed of. In fact, it is one of the things that a person who is not lonely would do.
- Let go of the negative thoughts that circulate in your head and avoid overthinking. The solutions mentioned above will only have an effect when you actually adopt them. But negative thoughts will always remain an obstacle. Overthinking in itself is another disorder. So instead of thinking through your loneliness like it’s rocket science, take it easy and consider these solutions as something that you would do in daily life. Oftentimes, negative thoughts and the overthinking that comes with anxiety is not something you can control. If you’re struggling to keep those thoughts in check, consider creating a system of accountability. For example: my roommate has a habit of apologizing needlessly. In order to combat that habit, we created a “Sorry” jar. Every time she apologizes needlessly, she has to put a quarter in the jar.
- Don’t compare yourself with others. This is one of the main reasons why a person tends to feel lonely at times. It can happen among both children and adults. Comparing yourself with others is not a good way to evaluate yourself. Instead, compare yourself with an early version of you. Think about how you have changed over the years and how much you have learned from your mistakes. Think about what you have achieved and what has made you happy over the years. This is the way you should compare yourself. There’s a quote which says, ”Never compare your first chapter with someone else’s tenth chapter.” It makes sense. What took a year for you to achieve might have been possible for another person in 6 months. But that doesn’t mean that you are worthless. It just took a little longer. That’s why comparing ourselves with others can induce the feeling of loneliness.
- Find ways to take your mind off your loneliness. Some people just sit in their apartment thinking about the memories that make them lonely in the first place. Those who have been bullied in schools, cheated in relationships, made fun of in classes might think about those experiences. You can’t succumb to this thinking. You just have to find ways to point our mind in a different direction. For example, instead of sitting and thinking about the stuff that causes you to be lonely in the first place, maybe a stroll will help you focus on something else. If you have an animal, you can even have company on your stroll. If that doesn’t work, think about reading a book or engaging in some other hobbies that you love. The whole idea is to shift the focus of your mind from negative to positive. (Coincidentally, this is why when an individual experiences the death of their spouse, they go to work as soon as possible to keep themselves engaged thus shifting their focus elsewhere.)
Solutions for Lonely Circumstances
While this article has so far focused on what to do if you’re lonely due to your internal experiences, it’s important to also consider what you should do if some external circumstances are still making your lonely, even though you’d be happy to socialize. Maybe you attend a school where the culture doesn’t fit you. Maybe you’re being bullied, someone’s invented lies about you, or you live far from your social circle. Regardless of the reason, sometimes lonely circumstances can cause you to suffer from loneliness. Here are some tips for overcoming these hard situations:
- Find a new friend group. If you’re unable to make friends where you’re at because of the circumstances (you don’t match well, bullying, etc.), try to find other places you can make friends. Perhaps an online game or social site, an extracurricular class, or attending seminars might work. Also, realize that friendship takes work – you might have to text someone constantly at first to grow your friendship.
- Associate with people who make you feel good about yourself. Trust me, when you’re lonely, it’s really easy to find yourself willing to associate with anyone who’s willing to hang out with you. But, if you’re talking to someone who isn’t nice to you, this can lead to problems of self-worth that are actually worse for you in the long-term. Find good, kind people to make friends with. Quality is better than quantity.
- Reach out to a mentor. Dweebs mentors can be a good resource for you as you navigate loneliness. Reach out if you need support, help, or even just someone to talk to. We’re here for you.
Below are some recommended resources for combating loneliness. In addition, one of our mentors has kindly shared his own experiences with loneliness.