An Overview Of Chronic Loneliness
By Nadia Khan
Updated December 19, 2018
Reviewer Juan Angel
Loneliness is officially defined as "a complex and usually unpleasant emotional response to isolation." Many individuals in society underestimate just how dangerous and insidious loneliness can be. The fact of the matter is that chronic loneliness is immensely toxic and in the worst cases, it can even be life-threatening. For one to be healthy, happy, fulfilled, and sane, interactions with other human beings are absolutely paramount.
A Closer Look At Chronic Loneliness
Contrary to popular belief, there is a very clear distinction between loneliness and being alone. As Curejoy affirms, loneliness is deeper than simply feeling alienated from other people. Being alone simply involves being without human company.
In most cases, loneliness goes deeper than one's surroundings. It is quite possible for someone to be in a room full of happy, cheerful people and still feel lonely. Chronic loneliness is furthermore linked to negative internal plights such as low self-esteem, embarrassment, and insufficiency. Individuals who experience chronic loneliness also struggle with developing healthy relationships, connecting with other people, and thriving in situations which involve social interactions. Certain individuals may even isolate themselves intentionally out of fear which only serves to worsen the already serious affliction of chronic loneliness.
What Triggers Chronic Loneliness?
There are several factors and variables which can trigger chronic loneliness. First and foremost comes genetics. Someone who comes from a family where certain members have struggled with loneliness may find themselves more susceptible to the affliction themselves. This does not mean that every person with struggling relatives will be afflicted with mental health members; it simply means that genetics and heredity can, and sometimes does impact whether or not one experiences chronic loneliness.
Another potential cause of chronic loneliness can be environmental and situational circumstances. Sometimes painful events in one's life, such as divorce, the death of a friend or family member, etc. can trigger loneliness. Although loneliness can be, and often is, a part of the normal grieving process, the trouble comes with it persists unrelentingly or when one refuses to engage in healthy interactions with other people. Human beings were not created to be alone and completely isolated or alienated. Isolation and alienation, like chronic loneliness, can have incredibly adverse impacts on the human psyche and mental health.
Unfortunately, the existence of chronic loneliness can be indicative of a bigger issue at hand, such as depression. According to Psychology Today, extreme, chronic loneliness is often symptomatic of other mental health issues such as ADHD, schizophrenia, hallucinations, delusions, or thoughts of suicide. It is very important for anyone who undergoes chronic loneliness to understand that they are not at fault and with time and possible treatment can recover.
Adverse Impacts Of Chronic Loneliness
Like other negative states of being, there is nothing positive that comes from chronic loneliness. The obvious downsides are well-documented; however, there are further unforeseeable after effects which can manifest if chronic loneliness persists for too long.
Negative Mental Impressions
Firstly comes the detrimental impressions on the brain. Additional reports from Curejoy state that the human brain processes loneliness in the same manner of physical pain. In layman's term, although human beings may be able to consciously tell the difference between physical distress and the emotional wounds of chronic loneliness, the brain cannot make the distinction. Neurobiological substrates play a huge role in the impressions above on the human brain.
Reduction In Life Expectancy
Chronic loneliness can moreover serve as a contributing factor to a reduction in life expectancy. Individuals who are frequently lonely or live by themselves are more susceptible to experiencing heart attacks, strokes, or other similarly fatal health traumas. Older adults who habitually feel lonely, isolated, or rejected are also more likely to die sooner than their sociable counterparts.
Susceptibility To Alzheimer's Disease/Dementia
Unfortunately, negative impressions on the brain and a reduction in life expectancy only serve as the tip of the iceberg regarding the severely adverse impacts that chronic loneliness can have on each human being. Individuals who experience chronic loneliness are furthermore 64% more probable to falling victim to Alzheimer's disease or dementia.
There are over three million annual cases of dementia, and although treatment can counteract some of the symptoms, there is not (yet) a cure for this mental health issue. Alzheimer's disease sadly targets the brain; many times this ailment halts an individual's memory and ability to perform the most basic tasks such as eating, getting dressed, or remembering their friends and relatives.
Susceptibility To Heart Disease
Similarly to dementia, the existence of chronic loneliness also increases a person's probability of experiencing heart disease. The link between the two health issues may not seem readily apparent, but it does exist. This is because chronically lonely individuals have genes which differ from their sociable counterparts. The genes above, therefore, undergo a phenomenon known as overexpression. Over time, overexpression engenders trauma and inflammation of the heart's tissues and blood vessels. Ultimately, the preceding damage leads to strokes, heart attacks, and additional cardiovascular ailments.
Susceptibility To Insomnia And Other Sleep Disorders
Similarly to social isolation and even retirement, chronic loneliness can trigger insomnia and other sleep disorders, especially in elderly individuals. Not only do chronically lonely persons struggle with sleep, but the quality of the sleep that they do manage to get is also negatively affected.
The existence and quality of an individual's sleep are directly linked to how well they function during their waking hours. The Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School affirms that insufficient and poor amounts or quality of sleep can engender many adverse consequences such as poor learning abilities, decreased retention of information, poor judgment, and higher propensity to find oneself in serious accidents.
The bottom line is that chronic loneliness serves as the gateway to a plethora of many unwanted and potentially fatal health issues.
How To Overcome Chronic Loneliness
While the knowledge and understanding of chronic loneliness are critical in today's society, so is the awareness of how to overcome this toxic state of existence. In the worst case scenarios, professional treatment may be required for severe cases of loneliness, but more often than not, there are certain steps and measures that individuals can take to reduce and, over time, halt the existence of loneliness altogether.
Connect With Other People
As obvious as it may appear on the surface, connecting with other individuals is one of the best ways to combat feelings of loneliness. Unfortunately, in many cases, this is often easier said than done. Various events can happen in life that may hinder one's ability or comfort with putting themselves out there and getting to know other human beings. This is especially applicable to individuals who are going through or have recently come out of a traumatic or upsetting life event.
Some of the best ways to connect with other people and alleviate feelings of loneliness are by joining certain clubs/groups or doing volunteer work. Not only does this put people in contact with others who share similar interests, but becoming part of clubs or volunteering can also help one feel as though they are a part of something bigger than themselves.
This can make all the difference in the world and eventually increase one's comfort levels. Attending gatherings and meetings on a regular basis, even if it's only a few times a week can also provide the individual with something to look forward to, which also serves as a great deterrent against chronic loneliness.
A Final Word
While connecting with other people is often an excellent way to overcome chronic loneliness, sitting down with a counselor or therapist can also make a great difference. Unfortunately, many people have reservations about seeking professional help; sometimes they view it as indicative of weakness or shortcoming, but in reality, it is precisely the opposite. The strongest people alive are the ones who can know when they need help and then ask for that help. In many cases, it can determine whether or not someone lives or dies.
Here at BetterHelp, we pride ourselves on having the best professionals who are most equipped to work with you regardless of what you may be going through or experiencing. Whether it's chronic loneliness or some other hurdle, the reality of life is that each of us will be faced with battles and other things which have to be dealt with or overcome. Never allow anyone to tell you that asking for assistance or guidance makes you less of a person.
The benefits and successes that BetterHelp has in the lives of those who come to us are well-documented and recognized by countless reputable sources. Ultimately, our mission entails helping anyone with life challenges at any time or place. We are great at what we do, and there is no other platform like us.
The choice is yours. However, we want you to know that you deserve to live your best life possible and BetterHelp will always be here as an option for you. If you, or a loved one, ever feel the inclination to contact us for any reason whatsoever, you can do so by clicking here.