Humans are social creatures, and the bonds we form with each other are essential to our brain health and survival.
Because we feel a strong desire to connect with others, we can often subject ourselves to waves of loneliness when lacking a social life.
Isolation and loneliness are not uncommon. Such feelings are universal, and everyone has gone through them at some point.
In 2020, 36% of Americans reported feeling “serious loneliness” in their lives. Specific demographic groups were more likely to report such feelings. However, everyone can feel alone, isolated, and lack a close confidant.
Symptoms of loneliness are common, but instead of letting these negative emotions overrun our lives, we can learn how to deal with loneliness by understanding the issue at its core.
Let’s see how it affects our lives and when it’s time to seek professional help.
How Can Loneliness Affect Your Mental Health?
Loneliness does not present a cognitive disorder by itself.
However, it is a psychological discomfort that can significantly damage our mental well-being and diminish our quality of life.
When we don’t meet our needs for companionship, we experience emotional distress, which we label as loneliness.
Terms such as ”emotional distress” and “loneliness” have meanings that can cover various conditions and circumstances.
Parents of young children, particularly mothers, often tend to experience loneliness.
That is because caring for their children prevents them from meaningfully interacting with other adults as much as they used to.
This loneliness is entirely different from the experience of someone who’s just moved states and lacks any local social connections.
We can distinguish between social and emotional loneliness, but there are many ways to differentiate feelings of isolation.
Nevertheless, both experiences are good examples of loneliness. Thus, we just learned that you could experience different types of loneliness.
Regardless of the type of loneliness and its cause, it can severely affect our mental well-being and trigger many psychological disorders:
Loneliness and depression are closely related and can cause similar sentiments. Lonely people have greater difficulty coping with depression.
They can experience more intense sadness and a more pessimistic outlook on life than someone with many social connections.
Symptoms of loneliness and depression can overlap, such as the case for feelings of pain and sorrow.
Some experts consider loneliness a subset of depression. However, despite their close link, there is a distinction between the two.
Loneliness by itself does not cause a sense of hopelessness in patients, as often people believe they can get better so long as they achieve the desired social connection with another.
Still, this doesn’t stop loneliness from worsening the depressive state of an individual and other symptoms.
Loneliness in life is associated with an increased risk of developing dementia or general loss of cognition with old age.
However, we could do with more insight into the background of feelings of solitude to determine the exact basis of the association between loneliness and cognitive decline.
Loneliness may be a consequence of dementia, or it may compromise neural systems and make individuals more susceptible to age-related neuropathology.
Regardless of the connection, it’s clear that these two are related.
3. Substance abuse
People facing hardships can quickly turn to psychoactive substances to cope with their emotional distress. That includes the use of alcohol, illicit drugs, or medications.
Those suffering from mental issues find that their use of substances grows into misuse faster than typical.
Thus, people who have a mental disorder and those who experience severe loneliness can be at greater risk of developing substance dependence and addiction.
Loneliness is not only a contributing factor to substance abuse but a maintaining one. It is a high risk factor in all stages of addiction.
4. Personality Disorders
Experts associate various personality disorders with loneliness.
Personality disorders can be connected to social isolation due to societal stigma but also the nature of the condition and its symptoms.
An example of this is BPD or Borderline Personality Disorder.
BPD has specific core characteristics, one of which is intolerance of loneliness.
That is precisely why there is such a strong link between the two. Loneliness also potentiates other BPD symptoms, such as emotional deprivation, which further contribute to the development of other disorders.
Socialization requires frequent participation in social practices and conventions.
Loneliness can result from a lack of involvement in these activities and worsen a person’s social anxiety, which in turn makes it harder to interact with others.
Not only that, but loneliness makes it hard to develop a support system, leaving us more vulnerable to increased anxiety levels.
Social isolation can also be connected with stress and your immune system.
Loneliness is associated with impaired cellular immunity and can be a source of acute and chronic stress.
While the link loneliness has to psychosis needs to be further studied, there is an indication that feelings of loneliness and solitude can increase paranoid thinking and even lead to hallucinations.
8. Suicidal Ideation
There is a strong correlation between loneliness and suicide ideation but also parasuicide. As loneliness increases, so does the prevalence of suicidal thoughts and attempts at taking one’s own life.
Reportedly, peak seasons for loneliness are winter and spring, which is also when the most suicide incidents occur.
9. Effects on Physical Health
Severe emotional distress can be physically painful, but it can also affect our health long-term. Loneliness is associated with cardiovascular diseases, such as increased blood pressure and atherosclerosis.
Individuals with symptoms of loneliness, like lack of exercise or sleep deprivation, can further experience declining physical health due to a lack of self-care.
How to Deal With Loneliness?
Dealing with loneliness can be difficult. Different people might benefit more from specific treatments.
While experts don’t consider loneliness a mental disorder, it is closely related to many conditions. Thus, a mental health professional best treats severe or chronic loneliness.
However, there are certain practices we can put in place to attempt to prevent or overcome negative feelings when we have no one to talk to.
1. Artistic Endeavors
Journaling can be a powerful coping tool in many situations. When you feel like there’s no one to confide in, pouring your thoughts and feelings out can be helpful.
If you’re new to journaling, you can make the process easier by imagining you are talking to someone else and conveying your thoughts to them and not simply putting them down on paper.
Creative expression is an effective healing tool in more cases than journaling. Engaging in other artistic endeavors such as painting or drawing can also help you relieve negative emotions.
2. Web Communities
Ironically, when you’re feeling lonely, you’re the furthest thing from alone. The issue of loneliness is widespread, and many people share your lonely sentiments.
Access to people from all around the globe is at your fingertips through the internet.
Many communities and platforms are specifically designed for social interaction, yet you can also find social features in apps devoted to other interests.
While telecommunications are not the same as physical interactions, they can help us find connections and support with others in a time of need.
However, it’s important to note that social media can cause feelings of loneliness to skyrocket.
We recommend you pay attention to your emotional state and know when it’s time to take a step back, and realize this form of socialization isn’t always helping.
3. Joining a Class
Joining a class or a club can create a sense of unity and belonging. That gives you a chance to interact with like-minded people who share your interests.
Beyond that, joining a class activity lets you engage with something you enjoy, improving your overall mood.
4. Strengthen Existing Bonds
Loneliness isn’t always due to social isolation and being alone. Chances are, even if you feel lonely, you already have some connections and people in your life you can reach out to.
Strengthening the bonds we already have with people can do wonders and help not just with loneliness but our overall mental well-being.
When our psychological health takes a hit, it’s commonly reflected in our physical health as well.
We stop taking care of ourselves and get stuck perpetuating our negative symptoms and damaging our overall quality of life.
Exercising, eating right, and getting proper rest are always important, even more so when we suffer from mental issues and when it feels hardest to do.
Self-care and self-maintenance are also good ways to practice kindness towards yourself, and perhaps find greater joy in spending time alone.
6. Be Productive
Planning out your day and keeping yourself busy can help you distract yourself from feelings of loneliness.
Not only that, but it’ll improve your mood by giving you a sense of productivity and accomplishment each day and a plan for the next one!
Helping others can also greatly benefit your life. Volunteering can serve as a place to meet others and be part of a group while also letting you make meaningful contributions.
You can decrease loneliness and increase your overall happiness and satisfaction through charitable acts and working with those less fortunate.
Not only do loneliness and mental disorders feed into each other, but some might even posit that loneliness is a disease by itself.
Many individuals remain to feel lonely even in the company of others.
Many times it’s not enough to simply put yourself out there and meet new people, or form new connections.
In fact, many mental disorders such as depression and anxiety can make this challenging to do in the first place.
We don’t always know how to deal with loneliness by ourselves. Reaching out to a professional can be as important as any other form of recovery and improvement we can attempt.
How Can Online Therapy Help You to Overcome Your Loneliness?
You’re not alone in dealing with loneliness. Many have been in your shoes and although there’s much research that we can still do on the origins, causes, and effects of loneliness, we also know a lot about it.
That means mental health specialists have had plenty of opportunities to develop and improve on therapy methods that help deal with loneliness and prevent it from increasing in severity.
Online therapy services are an excellent way to access the help you may need to handle your arising or persisting feelings of isolation.
Some methods used in online therapy, like cognitive-behavioral therapy, are short-term and teach you coping mechanisms that you can use outside of treatment and when dealing with other disorders.
There’s no shame in reaching out to anyone in a time of need, whether it be a friend, relative, or professional counselor.
Online therapy is an accessible and affordable solution you can take if struggling with loneliness.