Learning From loneliness

Carmen BryceBlog posts

We all have solitary moments and most of the time that’s okay. Some people even thrive in isolated conditions, however, it starts to be less okay when it causes damage to your mental and physical health.

Loneliness is an unpleasant emotional response to isolation or lack of companionship. It may begin as feeling a little isolated one day but it could snowball, and one isolated day may become weeks without friendship or feeling connected. 

An Australian study of 1,200 people discovered that 1 in 3 adults responded to being lonely. In Ireland, 170,000 older Irish people live alone, which makes them vulnerable to isolation and 10% of older Irish people suffer from chronic loneliness. Chronic loneliness is a more permanent type of loneliness vs transient state loneliness which is temporary in nature. Chronic loneliness is when a person feels lonely regardless of where he/she is, a family gathering, surrounded by friends, the experience of loneliness is always there.

What factors affect loneliness?  

In a world where we are constantly connected by technology, it appears that we are becoming more isolated. For the elderly, simple tasks become obstacles for them to leave the house, such as the weather or transport in rural areas. These all provide factors of social loneliness, that, combined with the loss of a loved one or the lack of family for emotional support, can be harrowing for most.

Long distances also provide a multitude of reasons for people to develop isolated feelings. People travelling from abroad, who have no access to their family or friends, can feel excluded from a society in which they were not born in.Even with the technology to see family by video calling, there is still a sense of superficiality which eludes the emotional experience. 

Mental isolation is also critical to loneliness. Have you ever experienced being surrounded by people yet feeling incredibly isolated? It is not only the physical presence of people that cause loneliness, it is the mental experience and the willingness to connect to other people on an emotional basis. As a result, it is not uncommon for many younger individuals to feel more isolated in this day and age than ever before given the rise of social media which tends to provide a platform for people to showcase certain aspects of their life. This can lead to others seeing this and feeling more alone about their own life. This allows loneliness to become a precursor for other mental health issues most notably – depression.

What are the effects of loneliness?

Surprisingly, the effects can be quite severe. Many studies suggest it is ranked as a high risk factor and can have the same mortality as smoking and twice as bad for you as obesity. A partial list of the physical diseases thought to be caused or exacerbated by loneliness would include Alzheimer’s, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, neuro-degenerative diseases, increased cognitive decline, and fragmented sleeping patterns. 

How to combat loneliness?

There is a constant need for improved methods of treatment for loneliness to be discovered. However of the treatments that we do know, talk therapy has the largest positive impact. Out of the many approaches within talk therapy it has been concluded that addressing maladaptive social cognition through therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)  was the most effective in treating loneliness. MyMind offers online therapy sessions to those who are in isolated parts of the country with no access to transport or those who experience mobility issues. 

Yet there are an abundance of ways to approach loneliness. Even saying “I’m lonely” to a close friend or family member will relieve a lot of emotional anxiety. Joining a club or organisation can provide a platform to remove those isolated feelings. It can help to constantly remind yourself that loneliness is only a feeling and it is a feeling that can be fought. Make plans with friends or family or organise plans to meet up for coffee with people you get along with or co-workers.

Other methods may vary from individuals, however a personal favourite of mine would be AAT (animal assisted therapy) or pet assisted therapy. It is not uncommon for people to seek out someone who will be there when they are feeling their lowest and pets are always there for you. Budgies and canaries are often used for people who are less open to the conventional pets of cats and dogs. By simply giving an animal a few pets or a space to sit beside you on the couch you can drastically reduce the negative effects of loneliness and even depression whilst increasing your emotional positivity. 

If you too feel like you have some of the symptoms mentioned here, the solution can be a lot easier than you think. Talk to someone, talk to anyone, talk to your shopkeeper or even your bus driver, talk to us at MyMind. We are all constantly searching for a connection, give that connection a chance and talk to someone. After all, a stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet.

Written by Eamon Aswad