11 November 2020 15:34
The feeling of ‘being lonely’ can be distinguished from ‘being by yourself.’ Being by yourself is not the same and does not have to relate to feeling lonely. Loneliness revolves around being excessively by yourself, but at the same time wanting to be with others. It is also possible to experience loneliness when being with others, like for example when attending a party or participating in group work.
Loneliness is one of the main indicators of social well-being and is an inherently personal experience. Social contact is important for all humans, but the need for it varies from one individual to another. A nationwide survey of 55 000 participants conducted by BBC found that 16-24 year olds experience loneliness more often and more intensely than any other age group. The survey showed that 40% of respondents aged 16-24 felt lonely ‘often’ or ‘very often,’ whereas, only 29% of people aged 65 and over said the same. The results reflect that loneliness should be taken seriously in all age groups, and shows particularly worrying signs for the younger generation.
It has long been known that loneliness can be emotionally painful and that it is closely linked to mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety and in some few cases, schizophrenia. In general, it is reasonable to say that experiencing loneliness over a longer period leads to decreased mental and physical health.
Recently it has also been discovered that loneliness can be very detrimental to the body itself. Researchers have found that social isolation triggers cellular changes that result in chronic inflammation, which increases predisposition to serious physical conditions like heart disease, stroke, metastatic cancer and Alzheimer's disease. It was actually found that individuals suffering from loneliness had a 26% higher risk of dying, rising to 32% if living by oneself. Loneliness has become ever more prevalent in today's society, thus we can look for signs and symptoms in order to detect it. But what should we look for?
To establish whether you or someone you know is suffering from loneliness, it is important to recognize signs before the condition develops into something worse. It should be emphasized that some of the signs and symptoms of loneliness are nothing to worry about if they only occur once in a while. However, if they occur more frequently, the following symptoms are often shared across individuals:
There is an overwhelming feeling of ‘being alone’ regardless of where you are and who you spend your time with. You could be attending a party where there are dozens of guests, yet you feel isolated and disengaged from the others. The same goes for public transport; when travelling you feel like you are in your own bubble.
You struggle to connect with people on a deeper, more intimate level. Your relationship with family or friends stays at a surface level and the lack of interaction may cause a feeling of not being seen or heard. This feeling is for example evident when you try to connect or reach out, and it is not reciprocated.
If trying to be social and engaging with others leaves you exhausted, it may be a sign of loneliness. If the exhaustion continues and you feel like it drains your energy level, it may lead to other issues like sleep problems or a weakened immune system.
Do you feel like you are sick all the time? Your immune system works better when you are happy and the body is more adapted to fight off common illnesses in this state. Experiencing a deep loneliness without a support network, and lack of communal activities leaves you stressed. This can mean it becomes more difficult for your immune system to respond, causing lengthier and more prolonged illnesses.