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What to Know About Dealing With Loneliness

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on October 25, 2021

Loneliness is not a condition for specific people in society. It can affect anyone, regardless of their age, social background, economic status, or education level. Nobody wants to be lonely, but it can happen without you realizing it. 

Some symptoms of loneliness include:

  • Low energy levels
  • Inability to focus
  • Hopelessness and worthlessness
  • Lack of appetite
  • Getting sick more often
  • Binge-watching TV
  • Physical pain like headache, migraine, stomach ache, or muscle tension
  • Insomnia
  • Substance abuse

Impact of Loneliness on Mental Health

The long-term effects of loneliness can be harmful to your emotional, mental, and physical health. They can happen together or separately.

Long-term illness. Social isolation and loneliness put you at a higher risk of becoming sick. Some people can even develop cardiovascular and mental health issues, which increase the chances of early death.

Poor sleep quality. When you don't get enough sleep, your mind can't work well during the day. Inability to perform at work or school makes you stressed, and stress can lead to depression. Sleep deprivation also increases your feelings of loneliness.

Stress and depression. Some people ask whether loneliness causes depression or depression causes loneliness. It's likely a little bit of both, as each is a risk factor to the other. One symptom of depression is social isolation or depression. On the other hand, when you have chronic loneliness, your mood will suffer.

Increased risk of dementia. Loneliness affects cognition, or how you think. Studies link it to problems with executive function, attention, and cognitive function. It also raises your risk of Alzheimer's disease. A study done on 12,000 participants showed a significant link between loneliness and a 40% increase in the risk of dementia.

Changes You Can Make to Overcome Loneliness

Acknowledge that you’re lonely. The first step towards solving a problem is always to admit that it exists. Notice how you feel and the impact of those feelings on your life. Talking to a counselor can help bring out the deep-seated feelings you might not know about. A professional will help you detect the causes and suggest steps towards minimizing loneliness.

Grow your social networks. Some studies suggest that having a bigger social network can help improve your mental health. The study found that men without many social connections were at a higher risk of death than those with more social connections. Work on maintaining social relationships through email, phone contact, or social media when physical contact is not possible.

When you have good social support, your psychological stress reduces, and your ability to bounce back from anxiety and depression grows. Strong relationships have a way of helping you find your purpose and meaning.

Practice self-love. Before you reach out to others for social and moral support, work on your inner self. Self-disgust is a primary risk factor for loneliness. It leads to low self-worth that makes you cut yourself off  yourself from the world. You start thinking that no one could want to be with you, which isn’t true. Work on getting rid of this feeling and having a better self-image.

Don't overlook the power that lies in eating quality food, getting adequate sleep, and exercising. Meditation and sunshine can also contribute to putting down loneliness. 

Here are some more tips to take better care of your mental health:

  • A healthy diet improves your brain health. Eating whole foods is a strategy to help you cope with loneliness. Try to avoid sugar, highly-processed foods, and preservatives as they put a damper on your emotional and physical health.
  • Sunshine triggers the release of feel-good hormones like serotonin and endorphins.
  • Exercise also triggers the production of endorphins in the brain to make you feel better and lift your mood.
  • Proper sleep is closely related to good mental and emotional health. Limit your sugar and caffeine intake before sleeping, sleep in a dark and quiet room, and turn off digital devices as you sleep.
  • Do the things you enjoy most. Consider community or volunteer services to spend time doing good for others.

Final Thoughts

Many people are silently living with loneliness, and their mental health is at risk. Addressing the loneliness pandemic involves both individual and community efforts. We can all do something, like rekindling lost friendships and reaching out to neighbors for more social warmth. This way, the world will be a less lonely place for the many people who feel forgotten.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

American Psychological Association: “The risks of social isolation.”

Crisis Text Line: “How to Deal with Loneliness.”

Forbes: “7 Ways Loneliness (And Connectedness) Affect Mental Health."

Gerontology: “Loneliness and Risk of Dementia.”

Harvard Health Publishing: “Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food.”

Journal of Aging Life Care: “Health Effects of Social Isolation and Loneliness.”

Nature Communications: “Sleep loss causes social withdrawal and loneliness.”

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