Loneliness does not have one specific reason – it arises from a whole group of factors
In January 2018, the UK created the unusual position of “Minister for Loneliness” – the post of head of the special government commission on loneliness. The creation of such a commission is an indicator of the severity of this contemporary problem. Now it is becoming clear that the harm from loneliness for any country is colossal.
What is loneliness
Loneliness is not only the absence of a romantic partner – it is the absence of any close ties. If you do not have a romantic partner (wife or husband), you are not necessarily alone – there may still be friends, relatives, like-minded people. But if there is no one, this is loneliness.
Loneliness can be social and emotional. In the first case, a person has few social contacts, in the second – emotional.
When there is a lack of social contacts, a person is moderately ill – after all, the existing emotional contacts neutralize the lack of social ones. Emotional contacts can be not only communication with one or two close people, but also religious communication (prayers to the deity, for example).
With emotional loneliness, when there are social contacts, but not close ones (there is no one to “talk heart to heart,” but you can talk about the weather and prices for buckwheat), the person is much worse.
Well, if social loneliness and emotional loneliness coincide, then this is already unbearably bad and may well lead to death.
This is not a joke.
How loneliness works
Loneliness is not very fast, but very reliably undermines human health.
Lonely people are constantly in a state of chronic uncontrollable stress. Because of this, their body “wears out” faster – the vulnerability of the body’s defense systems increases, they fail. Plus, loneliness often makes people sleep worse – either less or not as deep as non-lonely people. This adds harm to health.
A large 2015 study found that loneliness is about as likely to lead to illness and death as alcoholism or tobacco abuse. In other words, a hundred lonely teetotalers will live about the same as a hundred single smokers – that is, not very long (at the same time, please note, they struggle with loneliness much less than with drunkenness or smoking – they underestimate).
Worst of all, the study failed to distinguish between objective and subjective social isolation. In other words, if a person thinks he is alone, he is alone. And no matter how many people consider him their friend, they come to the rescue and so on. A person can literally put himself in a stone bag and be alone in a loving and caring family.
Prolonged loneliness causes depressive symptoms and – what is especially unpleasant – these symptoms exacerbate loneliness, and it, in a spiral, further exacerbates these symptoms.
In the end, loneliness leads to changes at the level of the brain – if you take a person who has undergone prolonged isolation, we can easily distinguish his brain from the brain of a person who lived a full-fledged social life. This, however, is the case with all social animals – from rats to dogs. And people.
Why do people get lonely
First of all, it should be noted that solitude (you left somewhere in a forest hut for a week) is not loneliness. You have preserved close emotional contacts, in a week you will return to these wonderful people and hug them. Loneliness is the fundamental absence of such connections.
Loneliness does not have one specific reason – it arises from a whole group of factors.
First, of course, these are objective factors. Let’s say you moved to another country and found yourself in social isolation due to the fact that locals shun you because of stereotypes (while you cannot find your compatriots in this country).
Secondly, there are suspicions that there are genes that so affect the work of neurotransmitters and the immune system that a person becomes more vulnerable to loneliness: he quickly succumbs to despondency and avoids communicating with new people.
Third, loneliness arises from emotional problems. For example, the famous Japanese hikimori (recluses), who may not leave the house for years, are locked in four walls mainly due to social fears (they will laugh at me, they won’t accept me, I will behave awkwardly, etc.).
Fourth, there is a lack of social skills. People who find it difficult to meet, who cannot defend their position, who do not know how to find a topic for conversation are most likely to remain lonely.
Deficiencies in social skills can show up even in small things – lonely people have a hard time smiling at strangers when interacting. It is not surprising that it is difficult for them to make an acquaintance – few people want to communicate with a person who for the first few minutes communicates with a gloomy expression.
Fifth, loneliness is associated with beliefs – whether a person sees close people in the surrounding or not. If he does not see, then he will inevitably be alone (this, I recall, is called subjective social isolation, see the study mentioned earlier).
How to overcome loneliness
Loneliness is not a sentence. It is familiar to many people and many of them were able to overcome it. Moreover, the discomfort that we experience in loneliness helps us to seek new close relationships – it kind of pushes us out, as the high temperature after a while pushes us out of the steam room.
The key here is action. It’s not as easy as you’d like, but the discomfort of being alone can be empowering.
If a person is lonely due to objective factors, you need to look for opportunities to overcome them. For example, if there are no peers (say, an elderly person), you can make friends with children (I know a case when an 80-year-old grandmother came as a volunteer to an orphanage – both the children are happy, and she gets rid of loneliness).
If genes and various anxieties are to blame, then pharmacology helps a lot here – the appropriate drugs reduce the negative effects and allow a person to get out of the shell. If it supports learning social skills and sober thinking skills, the result is quite good.
You can get yourself a pet, preferably social animals. After all, close emotional relationships can be with a faithful dog, because he considers a person a member of the pack.
In summary, any attempt to overcome loneliness and create new emotional contacts will be better than nothing. Loneliness kills (even if it’s not as obvious as with alcohol or tobacco) and it is important to confront it. And any opposition to him will ultimately be tied to other people – and thereby relieve loneliness.