At its core, loneliness is a state of mind. It is a painful awareness of not having the relationships you need. However, it's crucial to differentiate loneliness from solitude. Solitude is the state where one voluntarily spends time being alone to recharge their mental health and focus better. Some people are lonely because they have moved to a new city and do not have a network of friends. Others may have many contacts but lack closer relationships. We all need people in our lives to understand and support us and be there by our side. A lack of meaningful relationships can leave us feeling empty, lost and lonely. It is a horrible feeling for those who experience it.
That being said, loneliness is experienced across all age groups. However, a few factors such as physical location and personality could affect your probability of experiencing loneliness. Single people are more likely to be lonely than married people, but marriage is no guarantee of avoiding loneliness. An unhappily married person or a housebound wife is as likely to be lonely as a singleton. Both men and women feel lonely (but women are more likely to admit it).
Given how common it is, it would help if we could learn to manage this feeling of loneliness. Why? Well, suppose it is something that you experience constantly. In that case, it could lead you to experience feelings of boredom, depression, and self-pity and even cause you to feel unappealing and unwanted. These are difficult emotions to manage and could lead to unhealthy coping methods, such as excessive consumption of harmful substances or, in extreme cases, thoughts of self-harm.
The current trend is of people changing cities and jobs frequently. With this, many tend to find it challenging to interact with new people, make new friends, and thus feel all alone. They might even go frantic trying to mingle with groups whose company they might not cherish, ultimately leading them to keep to themselves. In such situations, people also tend to confirm their beliefs that they are unwanted and unloved, which only aggravates their loneliness.
In large cities, people tend to protect themselves from overstimulation by limiting their involvement with those they do not know. This makes it more difficult for a new person to make friends. At the same time, more people are moving away from the place where they grew up. As a result, they need to make new friends. Young adults and adolescents, in particular, feel ashamed to be seen alone. Avoiding this embarrassment contributes to their loneliness by keeping them away from places where they might meet people.
Other factors such as the death of a loved one, life events such as separation or divorce or estrangement from loved ones are also significant contributors to loneliness.
A lonely person may often stay alone, think gloomy thoughts and feel depressed. While this is natural, it doesn't help them overcome the feeling of loneliness. A few universal (but unhealthy!) coping strategies for loneliness are sleeping for longer hours than usual, eating much more than usual, drinking by oneself, skipping through channels on the television or surfing the internet for endless hours. These activities eventually cut us off even more from the rest of the world. They also reduce our probability of meeting new people, getting to know them and overcoming our loneliness.
Scientists have found an alternative that can help you feel less lonely. Interestingly, it doesn't involve efforts to go out and socialise. Instead, it's linked to finding your flow. Scientists at the Penn State University, USA, studied loneliness and leisure time amongst international college students and older adults and realised that leisure activities that require us to be focused and use our skills help us feel less lonely.
By engrossing us, these activities help us enter a state of "flow", where "we become absorbed and focused, and we experience momentary enjoyment." So, what are these leisure activities? They can be any mental and physical activities that are meaningful to us while simultaneously challenging enough to require us to put some effort and focus into them. To learn more about the flow state, click here.
Loneliness can affect your health negatively, so it is essential to be able to recognise signs that you are feeling lonely. Also, there are things that you can do that can help you form new connections and find the social support that you need. Work on creating new connections and spend some time talking to people in your life. If you're still struggling, you may reach out to a professional.
To find ways to deal with loneliness, click here.