Loneliness is an emotion we have all gone through at some point in our lives. It is quite normal to feel alone and lonely, and it is just not possible that we be surrounded by people at all times. Sometimes, we may feel lonely in a crowd. There are many causes for loneliness and they vary from individual to individual. The question is, till what point is loneliness normal and if it can be classified as a disease?
When is it bad to be alone?
Loneliness may fall on the list mental health issues such as depression, if it continues unabated for a long time. Experts say that it is actually a state of the mind, rather than a physical occurrence. There are health consequences which may arise out of loneliness, bad to be alone.
When you feel lonely, you feel alone, empty and even unwanted. Lonely people desire to communicate with other people, but they find it hard to form relationships with people. They feel isolated and alone – for example, a child may feel lonely in a new school, or you may feel alone when you move to a new place for a job, or to study. Unfamiliar surroundings create loneliness for many people.
How is loneliness measured?
Despite many people experiencing loneliness, there are actually very few ways to measure it, partly because loneliness is not a physical state which can be quantified. Certain data is used to measure loneliness, and depending on the results, it can be determined whether it is bad to be alone or not.
Various aspects of a person’s life are taken into consideration, such as marital status, household size and size of the person’s social network and the data comes through statistical analyses and surveys. Scientists investigate the perceived support as well as loneliness perception and relationship satisfaction to quantify loneliness. Those who score low on social network are most likely to be lonely.
How loneliness affects the body
It is bad to be alone according to an article published in the Harvard Business review. Loneliness can reduce a person’s lifespan equivalent to that which is caused by smoking about 15 cigarettes in a day. Heart disease and strokes have been associated with loneliness. This happens because humans release stress hormones when they feel alone, and this brings about physiological changes within the body. When you experience muscle tension, racing heart etc, and this becomes a chronic state, then health issues including psychological disorders arise. So it seems it is bad to be alone as it makes us feel stressed and unhappy.
Mental disorders associated with loneliness
Depression and loneliness can go hand in hand. If we have very few close relationships then we will have very few people to turn to when we feel low. But if someone does not have any friends or relatives they can communicate with, then they might end up suffering from depression.
A study which was conducted over five years at Chicago University found that if there were signs of loneliness initially in the five years, then there was a very good chance of the person being overwhelmed by depression after five years. So depression is one of the psychological disorders associated with loneliness.
We have seen that it is bad to be alone and leads to physical and psychological issues. Loneliness has also been connected to addiction. It was seen that people who have full lives and are close with others, are safe from addiction. The opposite of this, i.e. people who feel lonely are much more prone to be addicts, as they try to fill the emptiness with a substance. Addicts can be helped to get over their addiction by forming bonds with people rather than connecting with drugs or alcohol.
3. Social anxiety
Social anxiety can be mild or intense. When it is intense, people cannot even leave their homes. In its milder form, those who are alone find it difficult to form relationships as they feel themselves to be unworthy or unlikeable. Lonely people are scared of messing up their relationships, and so their anxiety grows and they are finally trapped in a cycle.
Hoarding too may be due to loneliness. It is generally categorized an obsessive compulsive disorder, but there is an aspect of heartache and loss associated with hoarding. It is one of the mental health issues which may occur due to loneliness. When we cannot fill our lives with friends and family, then we sometimes can try to fill the void with objects. These objects make us feel comforted and less alone. According to the International Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Foundation, loneliness is a major factor which causes hoarding. Thus, it is bad to be alone as this leads to many mental issues.
Causes of loneliness
Neuroscientists at Chicago University has connected loneliness to genetics. Other causes could be the death of a beloved family member, friend or pet. Relocating to a new place, divorce can make a person feel alone. Not being able to connect to people and losing contact with friends/family leads to feeling isolated. Isolation can be due to being immersed in a completely unfamiliar social environment. Unfortunately, a study found that loneliness might be contagious, and being around lonely people can make others feel lonely too.
How to prevent being lonely
Loneliness is not something which cannot be overcome. With some conscious effort, you can make the transition from being lonely to having a full life. You can do this by joining a club or group which you like. Doing volunteer work will enable you to help people less fortunate than you and help you regain self-worth. You might meet people who are like-minded and gradually form new bonds.
Expecting the best from your relationships will make them positive and rewarding. Expect to be liked and loved and you will be! If you feel lonely all the time, then you should accept it but not allow it to overcome you. So loneliness is not a disease, but can lead to diseases and taking action to reduce loneliness will increase your health and happiness.