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Dealing with loneliness and isolation

Dealing with loneliness and isolation

Mindfulness can go a long way in tackling loneliness.


A sad lonely girl
Mindfulness can go a long way in tackling loneliness | Shutterstock

Yuong Cheng and Naren, who lived in the UK, had been married for nearly eight years. Naren was a first-generation immigrant from India and Cheng was of Chinese descent, born and raised in the US. They owned three convenience stores, lived a healthy life, and shared a beautiful relationship with each other.

“I was 31 (then) and had been desperately trying to conceive for four years, but with each passing day and failed treatment, our despair built,” shares Cheng. This took a toll on her physical and emotional health.  “My relationship with Naren grew distant as our intimate times together diminished to a mere act of trying to conceive. There were times when I felt defeated and lonely,” she adds.  Her story might be unique, but the feeling of loneliness and isolation is one that is shared by many.

Loneliness is usually described as a feeling of being isolated and devoid of companionship. Yet, there is no typical cause of loneliness. It may be brought on by a situational change or a life event. The feeling might be more palpable during holidays, special occasions like birthdays, and during periods of stress. It can linger or come in fits and starts.

“With recent changes in our lifestyles, social structures and relationships, restricted human contact, loneliness is becoming one of the most difficult problems of today,” says Dr Ruhi Satija, consultant psychiatrist and counselling therapist based in Mumbai. However, people don’t always discuss their feelings of isolation and are unsure how to deal with them.

Why addressing loneliness is crucial

It may not come as a surprise that loneliness has an impact on mental health and frequently coexists with depression. It can also have considerably wider-ranging effects.

Despite technological advancements that make it possible to interact in new ways, evidence indicates that loneliness is more widespread than ever. There are several detrimental impacts of loneliness on both physical and mental health including drug and alcohol abuse, altered mental processes, Alzheimer’s disease progression, antisocial conduct, stroke, and cardiovascular disease, decreased learning and memory, suicidality and depression, increased levels of tension and poor decision-making.

A survey conducted by marketing research and consulting firm, IPSOS in 2021, revealed that 43 per cent of Indians reported feeling lonely ‘often, always, or some of the time.’ A 2020 survey of 10,000 adults in the US showed that 61 per cent of the respondents indicated that they felt lonely. In the post-Covid world, loneliness is a silent pandemic, adds Dr Satija. Moreover, loneliness and social isolation are difficult to measure and sometimes it is even difficult to admit that one is experiencing it.

Human company matters

Anish Kumar Singh, a Delhi-based life coach and psychologist, says, “Being a social animal, humans need more from others than just their physical presence. To dream, plan, and work towards shared objectives, we need the company of others. We need to be with people who respect, admire, and see us for who we truly are.”

People who are lonely often withdraw themselves and do not reach out to others. This makes it less likely that others can or will assist them. “It is imperative to reach out to someone you think is struggling with loneliness,” he adds.

“Those who are lonely are more likely to have a range of health problems,” says Dr Satija as human well-being is largely dependent on social interactions. The lack of meaningful connections can show up in affected people as physical or emotional symptoms.

“But there are ways to battle loneliness and find some meaning in life,” she stresses.

Signs of loneliness according to Dr Satija

  • Changes in mood
  • Irregular sleeping patterns
  • Alterations in appetite
  • Spending more time alone at home
  • Increased dependency on the internet
  • A rise in purchasing patterns
  • Increase in drug abuse

Ways to combat loneliness

Knowing the symptoms of loneliness and isolation might help in identifying them in one’s life, or in the lives of people one cares about, and devising strategies to work around them.

“Recognise the distinction between loneliness and being alone,” cautions Satija. Individuals who leave their homes and families behind in search of their dreams, feel lonely frequently. Feeling that there is no one for us when we need them is different from realising our dear ones are not physically close by.

“Negative thoughts can occasionally accompany mental health conditions like depression or anxiety for people who are lonely. Working on oneself should begin with getting assessed and talking to someone who can offer guidance,” says Singh.

Simple mindfulness techniques to ward off loneliness

A regular regimen is a crucial tool. Wake up, immediately make your bed, brush your teeth, take a shower, have breakfast, and/or go for a run.

Finding others with comparable activities and interests to our own is important, as is making an effort to feel at ease and connected to them. Join a group, whether it be a book club, chess club, or any other community activity.

One of the simplest paths to pleasure is to help others. See how one can discover meaning in life’s small moments by doing something kind for someone.

Try to utilise mindfulness to be more present in the moment because most negative thoughts that cause anxiety are either about the past or the future.

Visits from family members and friends can significantly improve our mental health and reduce loneliness. Moreover, a roommate is one way to find company. If having a human companion is too demanding, think about making a pet one’s companion.

Even when things seem hopeless, we can learn to notice the good in our lives by maintaining a daily journal of gratitude.

Holistic healing

A doctor will attempt to comprehend the underlying factors contributing to the individual’s loneliness and depression. A diagnosis of depression due to loneliness informs us of the pain the individual is experiencing, but not the underlying imbalances that led to that pain. The factors that affect our mental health include our lifestyle, diet, environment, and emotional triggers.

“One of the numerous holistic strategies that can be used to support the stabilisation of mind, body, and emotions is integrative and internal medicine. Eliminate harmful factors that affect brain health and substitute functional, healthful nutrients, meals, and coping mechanisms in their place,” says Dr. Mohammad Moshin Ali, integrative medicine practitioner, and director at Integrated Medical Centre in Delhi.

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