Overcoming Loneliness

Overcoming Loneliness
Overcoming Loneliness

Being alone can be a very positive state of being - a time for reflection, contemplation and self-assessment. Loneliness is totally different. The feelings of isolation that come from not being part of a group or social network where we feel we are in touch with one another and can share our daily burdens can, over time, become unbearable, as connecting with others is vital to both our mental and our physical well-being. Chronic loneliness is often associated with, or at the very least, is a precursor to, many other mental problems. It is closely linked to depression and social anxiety syndrome and, if unchecked, can lead to feelings of hopelessness and despair. Studies have shown that loneliness can double a persons chances of catching a cold, that lonely people are four times more like to suffer from a heart attack and, if so, that they are four times more likely to die from it (Geller, Jeffrey. Loneliness: An overlooked and costly health risk factor. Minnesota Medicine. April 2000: vol 83 .)

Moreover, researchers from the University of California in Los Angeles have found that long-term loneliness can trigger a unique change in gene activity which increases the risk of cancer and other life threatening diseases significantly. That’s why loneliness should be taken very seriously and why we should do all we can to keep socially engaged throughout our lives. It’s easy to fall into a pattern of social isolation, particularly if you've been through a traumatic episode in your life, or suffer from anxiety of depression. Negative self-perception is one of the biggest causes of loneliness, as those suffering from it often feel inept at social intercourse and tend to avoid opportunities where it might happen. As I mentioned earlier, this behavior is totally different to ‘being alone ’ in that it is driven from self-loathing or, at the very least, from self-doubt. It takes an amount of courage to face others when you have isolated yourself from them for a long period of time; and so, rather than push you to ‘just get out there and meet new people ’ (which would be far too glib of me), I suggest the following gentle steps towards social re-connection and self-help.

UNDERSTAND THAT YOU ARE NOT ALONE

This sounds obvious, but most of the resounding statements from lonely people are connected to their feelings of ‘not belonging’ or ‘not feeling normal’. Debilitating loneliness affects around one in four of the population, so there are plenty of others out there feeling just as you do right now. There are numerous resources online that can help you understand this important fact. Many provide the opportunity to communicate with other sufferers and can prove to be an excellent first step towards a more confident and conversant you. One of the best sites I have come across is Web of Loneliness (www.webofloneliness.com) where you can find numerous articles, discussions and groups to connect you with others. For those of you that are housebound, these sites provide an extremely valuable life-line whilst, for others, they are a very effective way of socially re-engaging as you continue to build your confidence by undertaking the following exercises at your own pace.

TAKE THE FIRST STEP

Start with a simple ‘hello’ to the postman, a ‘good morning’ to a neighbor and see where it takes you. Don’t wait for others to approach you and if they seem too busy to answer then don’t take it as a personal rejection. Congratulate yourself on your courage and keep at it!

TAKE AN INTEREST

Once you have overcome your personal boundaries in greeting others then start to notice and comment on everyday events around you. You might notice someone picking up a book you have read in a library or a favorite magazine in a shop. Don’t be afraid to comment on it to them and listen to their responses. Lonely people often isolate themselves to the point where they close themselves off to others opinions for fear of not fitting in. Listening is the first important step in being heard.

BUILD YOUR CONFIDENCE

So now that you’re chatting with others, albeit small talk, it’s time to take the next step and join a group geared around a subject that interests you. I know all too well that it takes tremendous courage to walk into a room full of strangers for the first time but, as mentioned above, understanding that you are not alone in your feelings and reservations, is key to finding the confidence to do it and to ultimately build the relationships you deserve. Once you have made initial contact with people in the group and have gone through the process of getting to know them a little better, then push yourself to make a phone call, email or write a letter to one or more of them whose details you have hopefully exchanged. Friendship, like everything worthwhile in life, takes time, work and commitment. It doesn’t just happen without any participation from you but the results of your efforts can be so emotionally fulfilling that, in the end, they are their own reward.

THE ULTIMATE GIFT

The most important thing to remember is that loneliness isn’t incurable. It’s a state of being that is self-perpetuating but, by fully understanding that you are not alone and that you can make a difference to both yourself and to others, you give yourself the strength to make the changes necessary and, ultimately, you acquire the riches of companionship and belonging that we all deserve.

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Follow Sarah-Jayne on Twitter: http://twitter.com/grattongirl

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Comments 24 comments

hot dorkage profile image

hot dorkage 7 years ago from Oregon, USA

very good article. Just a simple hello can brighten someone's day, and if your numbers are correct, there's a 1 in 4 chance the person you say hello to perhaps feels just as isolated as you do.

Also I want to point out that being alone is the absence of people around you, where is loneliness is an inner state. I have felt my loneliest when I'm surrounded by tons people and I feel I don't have a tie to any of them -- try walking down the crowded streets of a foreign city where you know no one and don't even speak the language -- now THAT's LONELY!


drgratton profile image

drgratton 7 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Thank you so much for your insightful comment hot dorkage and I can completely relate to the 'walking down the crowded streets of a foreign city where you know no one and don't even speak the language'. I am living in that situation right now, although I do have my husband around in the evenings. It's a very isolating experience, although I am trying to learn the language and have I found that the friendlier I am to people here the more help I get, so I guess that sometimes a simple hello, in any language, is often the key to finding the companionship and support that we seek.


Denny Lyon profile image

Denny Lyon 7 years ago from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA

Excellent hub drawing the line of distinction between loneliness as a choice stemming from trauma or current situation that created the isolation or being alone by positive choice.

I've lived in foreign countries too and actually found people to be a lot friendlier than my own Americans - guess it was their curiosity. Of course, I'm always game for helping someone practice their English and in so doing I start picking up their language. It ends up a fun exchange and everyone starts laughing!

The easiest way to engage others in a new country or even a new place you move to in your own country is to wave from a distance, like across the street or when you pass their shop window or restaurant. Then visit many times in a row, every day or every week at about the same time.

When people get used to seeing you in their surroundings you eventually become familiar to them. Then they will start talking to you in small bits. That's when you find out if they are introverts or extroverts and can gauge how much you can carry the interaction towards a real friendship or just a public cordiality.


drgratton profile image

drgratton 7 years ago from United Kingdom Author

That's such great advice Denny. I can personally relate to the idea of familiarizing yourself to people in a new place by gentle engagement first, as you suggest, and then by further one to one interaction which gives you a change to gauge compatibility. Thanks so much for your comments.


RGraf profile image

RGraf 7 years ago from Wisconsin

Great article. I don't understand chronic lonliness, but I have known the feeling of being an island alone in the middle of a crowded room. All it takes is one person to say hi and I don't feel so bad.

Thanks.


drgratton profile image

drgratton 7 years ago from United Kingdom Author

That's so true! Thanks so much RGraf for your comment.


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India

Great hub Sarah! Is loneliness more a state of mind than a situation? Very often you'll find that a person who is very confident and in control inside never feels lonely anywhere on the planet - someone who isn't could feel that way in a room full of loved ones!


drgratton profile image

drgratton 7 years ago from United Kingdom Author

I think that loneliness can be very much a state of mind, perpetuated by a negative social self-image that can stem back to childhood even (I feel a nature/nurture debate coming on!). In all cases, however, chronic, the first step needs to come from recognising that change is possible, which is particularly difficult when having gone unchecked for many years. You're so right when you say that you can be in a room of 'loved ones' and still feel lonely. All too often, sufferers blur the definition of their 'place' in a family or relationship with resulting negative effects which are subterfuged with a level of behavior considered to be 'expected' of them.. It's just a sad fact that we don't all we see the internal suffering of those we care about. As both a psychologist and a sufferer of depression - which is often a precursor to chronic loneliness, I know on both a personal and professional level how debilitating those feelings of being 'separate from others' can be. The advice given in my hub is intended to help those who first recognize that change is indeed possible. This can come from breaking just a single element of a daily 'routine' (such as stopping to wave at someone across the street or just saying hello to someone in a coffee shop) as mentioned by Denny in a previous comment. Once this has happened then, little by little, a negative self social image can slowly be erased and replaced by a more positive and confident one. I hope this is of help.


CJStone profile image

CJStone 7 years ago from Whitstable, UK

OK drgratton, I know all of this, having experienced all of these feelings to varying degrees in several parts of my life. It's funny, cos when you are young you never know these things could happen to you. I'm a naturally gregarious person, so it feels odd to find myself isolated and alone. So where are you living now? I spent about 7 months in Romania, which was a very lonely experience. I still have bouts of loneliness, though in my case I AM the postman who everyone says hello to. An insighful and helpful hub.


Ashley Tyler profile image

Ashley Tyler 7 years ago from Oklahoma

Great hub! I really have a problem with eating alone iin public. I hate it and will not do it. That is not too crazy right? lol


drgratton profile image

drgratton 7 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Thanks for your comment Ashley. Anxiety related to eating in public is more common than you probably realize and certainly doesn't make you crazy. It's often a self-confidence issue that you've transferred over to a food related social environment - possibly through childhood events but, it's impossible to be clear about this without further information. As long as it's not causing significant problems for you (and only you can decide that) then it's really nothing to concern yourself about. If you do want to tackle it head on however, then there are many steps you can take, which I'd be happy to share with you. Warmest wishes, Sarah


desperate 7 years ago

Good article, but I do suffer from cronic lonliness, and it stinks. My current situation is the cause of it. I am a mother of 3 a husband who is always gone. My mother and I are not close at all. I feel I have no one to talk to. For 15yrs all I have done is taken care of the kids and home. during the day I sit at home alone. Sometimes actually going places is an effort for me. When I do go to my girls games ect..I don't talk to many people at all. I know I need help to get out of this and to get past it.. starting the help and admitting to someone face to face I have problems and am very unhappy is very difficult step to do.


drgratton profile image

drgratton 7 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Dear Desperate

There are so many of us who feel exactly like you do and you have been brave enough to put your feelings down in writing, which is the first step in moving forward and making positive changes. Communication is where it all begins. If possible try talking to your husband or mother about how you feel. If this is a 'no, no' for you right now then, depending on where you live, there are a number of services which offer free counselling (either in person or over the telephone). In other words there are always people out there who will listen and offer the support you need. You are not alone.


georgina 7 years ago

I have 2 beautiful boys and have been a single parent for a long time, why do i feel so lonely all the time.


seamist profile image

seamist 7 years ago from Northern Minnesota

One out of four have deabilitating loneliness --- I never realized the statistics were that high. Thank you for the great hub.


Cellebrate! profile image

Cellebrate! 7 years ago from Manila, Philippines

nice hub!


rajivnandy profile image

rajivnandy 6 years ago from India !!

drgratton ......... i absolutely love this hub of yours ... your hub has certainly boosted a hope in me ..thx a lot ....once again ....thx a LOT !!!


Metajugglamum 5 years ago

Hi. I wrote a post on my own blog last week about feeling extraordinarily lonely in peaks and troughs throughout my own everyday life. I am on my way back up again now and was wondering, statistically how many others go through the same up-down-up process as myself. One in four is, however, quite a terrifying number. Thankyou for sharing this insightful post.

MJM.


SamboRambo profile image

SamboRambo 5 years ago from Salt Lake City, Utah

I like your ideas. Nice hub.


Sunshine625 5 years ago

Terrific hub loaded with very useful advice! Voted UP!!


NLCP_55 5 years ago

I am glad that some one knows the difference between loneliness and being a lone, i think this was a wonderful idea to write about as there is much loneliness in the world, and not just older people.I am very lucky not to have that feeling very often even after 23 years alone


John Kelliher 4 years ago

Cool!


Michael J. Morris (artemorris) 4 years ago

This is an awesome piece of literature which we all shuld read and put into practice. Specially we, the creative minds, learn a lot and depend on being lonely in order to connect with ourselves and our surrounding environment so we can concentrate on those

circumstances that leave our emotions flow and be able to share with others. THANKS!


Eleanor Jodway profile image

Eleanor Jodway 4 years ago

A Wonderful article...of course!! One area of Loneliness, You didn't discuss, that I would like to hear from You about is; People who are ostracized because of personality flaws/caustic personalities. What of their loneliness? Many of them are not in direct control of those personality traits that have left them outside of exceptable societal standards. One day we will have to have a discussion about that. I'd be so very Interested to hear Your views on that Sarah.

Again....great post! :)

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