There are times in our lives when it seems that loneliness is forced upon us and it can affect people of any age like adolescents, early adulthood, and older age. For example, kids attending a new school or moving to a new neighborhood. Young adults can experience loneliness and depression when they go off to college, and aging can bring isolation due to loss of health or family members moving away. Let’s not confuse this with the need to have time alone, as solitude is the physical state of being alone while loneliness is a perceived state of being alone that causes emotional discomfort or distress. Research suggests there are three recognizable types of loneliness; emotional which is the absence of meaningful relationships, social which is the lack of quality social connections, and existential which is a feeling of isolation from others and humanity.
The Silent Epidemic
Loneliness is one of today’s major public health crises, affecting 30% of us, and can lead to mental health issues as well as addiction. The link between loneliness and addiction suggests that the use of substances can disguise feelings of loneliness by providing a brief absolution from the mental and emotional distress that loneliness brings. Also, loneliness and substance misuse can mutually influence one another. Loneliness and other mental health disorders such as anxiety can lead to substance misuse and the development of addiction. Equally, addiction can contribute to feelings of loneliness.
My Own Struggles with Loneliness
Now that we discussed the research and statistics, this subject is close to my heart as I have suffered from loneliness most of my life. There was not one single cause of my loneliness, but I did have many life changes and circumstances that contributed to my feelings of being alone. When I was in elementary school, my dad changed jobs so my family moved across the country to a new place and I attended a new school. I left my friends, extended family, and the home I had always known. I was a very shy kid so it was very challenging for me to make friends and adjust to a new home. Later in my teens, my parents ended up divorcing, and at twenty-two years of age, my brother died in a tragic car accident. I had never experienced death before so I didn’t understand the emotions that flooded me with the divorce of my parents and the death of my brother. I had so much anxiety and definitely didn’t have the tools to deal with these emotions, so I filled the void with alcohol. There were other circumstances in my life with my own divorce and a health issue resulting in debilitating migraines which affected my work.
Childhood Trauma Impact on Loneliness
I read a column that was very interesting. It stated that individuals with histories of trauma in their childhood have the highest rates of personal loneliness as adults. The article mentioned that childhood trauma impacts an individual during their most vulnerable times of growth and development. Such experiences not only impact one’s sense of safety, but also shape a person’s perception of relationships, the trustworthiness of others, one’s sense of self and worthiness, and the risk/reward ratio of being vulnerable to another. However, one does not have to have experienced visible trauma in their life to struggle with feeling lonely.
Navigating Loneliness: Strategies for Connection and Well-Being
How does one cope with loneliness? What has really helped me most of all is to make time for the relationships in my life by setting some time aside to connect. Whatever that is, sharing a meal together with a family member or friend. Also, exercising can help by joining a group or asking a friend to schedule time to walk, and keeping myself healthy and well by addressing underlying mental and physical health issues that I may be experiencing. Here are some other suggestions that may help:
- Strengthen the relationships in your life by finding ways to be communicative and responsive to others.
- Communicate negative emotions directly to others when they occur, as well as spend time with people doing engaging and fun activities.
- Reach out when you are experiencing challenges by asking for help from those who are in your life.
- Help others when they are struggling too.
- Most of all, seek out professional help by talking to a healthcare and/or mental health expert.
Relationships and social connections are biological needs, as they play a vital role in our quality of life and emotional well-being. The need to connect gives us a sense of belonging, confidence, safety, and purpose. Loneliness is a perceived state of being alone that causes emotional unease or distress. Chronic loneliness may lead to mental and physical health issues. By connecting with others and practicing self-care, it can help with overcoming the sense of isolation and feeling alone.
For further support in dealing effectively with loneliness, depression, and more, please see: https://gettingpastanxiety.com/resources-for-you-to-get-past-anxiety/