Loneliness is an empty, pernicious thing. You can experience its effects without understanding its cause. I remember once sharing a barrage of things with my therapist and she looked at me and said, “You’re lonely.” It was a shocking statement. It was a revelatory statement.
You can be surrounded by people living your daily life and be lonely, because surface contact with a human without real connection does not satisfy our need for social intimacy. The pandemic forced people into isolation. Working from home, schooling from home and social interactions through the internet were necessary but it broke something in us. It has created an empty, pernicious thing - loneliness.
Flood: Years of Solitude
BY DIONISIO D. MARTÍNEZ
To the one who sets a second place at the table anyway.
To the one at the back of the empty bus.
To the ones who name each piece of stained glass projected on a white wall.
To anyone convinced that a monologue is a conversation with the past.
To the one who loses with the deck he marked.
To those who are destined to inherit the meek.
Loneliness Is Physical
The tendency is to think of loneliness as an emotional thing, but loneliness is physical. It has a profound impact on the brain. It activates the same areas of the brain that respond to physical pain. This causes the brain to become hyper alert and prepare the body for danger. The sense of danger creates a mistrust of others, a sense of suspicion, and self-doubt. This impact on the brain creates a pernicious self-perpetuating cycle. The symptoms limit connection and support - which leads to loss of connection and support - which increases the symptoms - and the cycle worsens.
The physical reality of loneliness and self-perpetuating cycle increase has a profound impact on mental and physical health. The correlation to Depression is strong. The cycle of loneliness and isolation perpetuates a negative self image, increases suicidal thinking and life dis-satisfaction. Anxiety disorders are affected by loneliness because of the impact on the brain’s fight or flight response. Substance abuse risk is raised because of the desire to numb the pain with alcohol or other drugs. Physical health risks of loneliness include: high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, compromises to the immune system, obesity and a higher risk of dementia in older adults.
Break The Loneliness Cycle
Loneliness begins with isolation and can only be broken by not isolating yourself. This can be hard to do because you may be fighting your own brain chemistry. You can start small by focusing on deepening existing relationships, even if it is just one or two. Those relationships can be friends or family. Deepening those connections will create more intimacy, develop trust and build a positive self-image. Next, reach out to old friends. Even if friendship isn’t rekindled, making the connection with someone will feel so great.
Expect the best from people. Remember that loneliness alters your thinking into a defensiveness about others. If you can begin to expect the best from others instead of living in distrust, it will help you open yourself to deeper and new connections. Finally, break further out of isolation by making new connections. This may seem daunting as well, but the first step could be as simple as going into public places and just being around other people. You may or may not interact at first, but being in the presence of others is a great first step. Keep in mind that isolation in prisons is the cruelest form of punishment. You certainly don’t want to be cruel to yourself.
How To Meet New People
Volunteer in your community. www.volunteermatch.org Is a great website that connects you with organizations that match your interests and passions needing volunteers in your community.
Find Like Minded People. Use www.MeetUp.com or FaceBook groups to find local groups matching your interests in your area.
Take A Class. You can find local classes with a simple google search. The classes cover all areas of interest: art, yoga, technology, history, crafts, and more. Many are free and most are very low cost.
Teach A Class. Do you have a particular skill and love to share it. Community centers, community colleges, Assisted Living Facilities, Art Centers are a few places that look for subject matter experts. In addition, there is a great post-pandemic need for tutors.
Join Or Create A Book Club. Many book clubs meet on line, but meet the challenge and find one that meets face-to-face.
Go To Church. Church is just a great place to meet people and create community connections. During the pandemic many church goers got out of the habit of going to church in person and are watching services online. If you fit that category, go back in person.
To the lonely, you are not alone. There are many people who are lonely and living with the real consequences of a brain in pain. If you need help to break the cycle of isolation and loneliness don’t be afraid to seek it.