Loneliness is a feeling of sadness or distress about being by yourself or feeling disconnected from the world around you. It may be felt more over a long period of time. It is also possible to feel lonely, even when surrounded by people.
Isolation is being separated from other people and your environment. Sometimes this occurs through decisions we make ourselves, or because of circumstance e.g. doing a job that requires travel or relocation.
The above picture shows a positive way of looking at life!
The above two are definitions of two feelings, that human being gets some time in life. This can happen at any age and can happen due to different reasons. There are different remedies to the same. But one thing is sure, these feelings are bad for the humans and earlier humans overcome them, is better. Though age is no bar, chances of this happening at an older age are much more. World over these two feelings are discussed together hence I am also treating them as same but one thing is well proven that these conditions lead to early deaths!
What are the reasons for Loneliness & Isolation?
Though the reasons are many, the most important being living alone, introverted personality, major long-term illness, loss of job and death of the spouse. Some of the reasons I have mentioned are a real shock, like death, to each of us but some are not able to cope.
I will try and separate them into tangible and intangible reasons. I am using this word in a slightly different way. Tangible means perceptible by touch but I am taking it as something for which there is a visible reason, like death.
- Death of spouse, close family member or a close friend is an event which puts everyone in a state of loneliness for some time. Many of us overcome these shocks within a reasonable period of time but some people take much longer or they need medical or psychiatric treatment. This could be because such people are
- Born that way, introverts
- Don’t have close family ties or ties with friends
- Live away from the family
- Living alone for various reasons can be is another thing that creates loneliness within us. This can be because of loss of the spouse, a job change resulting in other family members living elsewhere.
- Some are introverts by nature and find it difficult to meet new people. So, when the people whom you meet regularly, go away from your life, things can become difficult. Some people have a feeling that they don’t belong! They also feel a lack of purpose or meaning in life.
- Poor physical health, frailty, mobility issues are some of the issues that can lead to the feeling of loneliness. Long-term illnesses and treatment make you feel that you are alone in this world. I was treated for cancer in 2013 end. My treatment went on for three months and rehabilitation was another three months. Luckily my own and my family’s positiveness helped me. In such situations having a reasonably comfortable financial situation is also helpful.
- Some people have a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety. This is an illness of the mind. It creates a situation such that there is a fear of rejection from others or feelings of being “different” or stigmatized by society. What happens in such cases is that others in the society do not know how to react to such persons.
- Inability to participate in activities due to access issues, mobility, illness, transport. This really is an issue which can be easily resolved but you need to take support from people if required. During one of our alumni get together, one of our friends who has very poor eyesight called me to say that he wanted to attend the gathering. I coordinated with one friend who lived in the same area. Our friend really enjoyed the meet!
- Retirement from work, home relocation, starting out in a new role or community puts some people in difficulties as they are not able to cope up. These changes in life are level two events after death in the family! I know of someone who left his home in Mumbai fifteen years back and stays with his children in Pune and Bangalore. But he still cannot overcome this change simply longs for his Mumbai home.
- Language or cultural barriers, or reduced connection with your culture of origin is one more reason. This can easily happen in India, especially for older people, when their adaptability is reduced. Living in foreign countries for six months, post-retirement can be tough because of the language issue, weather conditions like snow. People feel in Geographic isolation.
- Feeling lost in the crowd is another mental condition that needs treatment.
How to cope up with Loneliness & Isolation?
It is very easy for others to say, you do this and you do that but persons who face the problems find it difficult to reach the solutions. Those who are born with natural positiveness, also face these difficulties but they overcome them. Another example is, we think that Public figures and stage personalities do not have stage fright. That is not true, they also have the same issues like all others but they overcome them, mask them, hide them well.
- Connect or reconnect with friends and family: staying in contact with loved ones can prevent loneliness and isolation. If your family does not live nearby, technology can help you stay in touch. Speak to them on WhatsApp or talk on Skype video. These are free. Keep in touch with them regularly.
- Get out and about: Regular outings for social functions, exercise, visiting friends, doing shopping, or simply going to public places can help. Don’t avoid functions either public or private. If not, take long walks in gardens where you will see many people and maybe you will like a few of them, you may want to know them.
- Volunteer: Helping others is a great way to help yourself feel more connected. Besides that, the feeling of goodness that comes within you because you are able to help somebody boosts your happy feelings.
- Consider getting a pet: Pets are wonderful companions and can provide comfort and support during times of stress, ill-health or isolation. They give you love without expecting any returns. Expecting returns and NOT getting it, is one of the reasons, why the isolation starts. But don’t forget one thing. There is work involved in having a dog as a pet. Their food, their walking, their poo poo collection and so many things. Then along with your visits to the doctor, Vet visits get added.
- Get support: If loneliness and social isolation are causing you distress, you should discuss your concerns with a doctor, counsellor or a trusted person. Don’t feel shy to openly asking for support. Remember people may not know that you need help unless you tell them.
- Focus on others needs: Focus on the needs and feelings of others, give less attention to your lonely thoughts and feelings. You can be involved in yourself all the time or you can think of others too! Interacting with others is better! Enjoy the site of different people in their own thoughts and their own moods, you can smile at strangers too!
- Try new things: Try to do some different things but don’t expect perfection and don’t expect people to appreciate what you are doing!
Ultimately, one has to find his own solution and there is no formula for this. Attempt different methods to interact with people, you may find some givers or some takers but don’t give up if you meet only takers initially; those people may have their own problems but keep on attempting. The world is too beautiful to live alone, try and enjoy to the best of your ability with others, with or without someone’s help!
There is a saying, if you see someone without a smile, give him one of yours! In the same vein if you see someone looking lonely, forlorn, isolated go out of your way to bring that person back to normal life! Tomorrow that person could be you!