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Plagued by loneliness?
Do you feel lonely at times? Take heart; everyone has, at some time or the other, succumbed to this feeling.
Loneliness is more than just need for company. It is a feeling of being cut off and/ or alienated from other people.
In its most pronounced forms, loneliness can be a serious, even life-threatening condition, heightening the risks of heart disease and depression. "It is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. People who are socially isolated usually have poor sleep quality; as a result, they have diminished restorative processes as well. Loneliness can play a part in alcoholism too," says Dr Kanchan Misra, a Lucknow-based psychologist.
Loneliness manifests itself in various ways. "You may feel isolated, alone and unhappy about your situation. You may see yourself in negatively and become overly critical of your physical appearance. You may end up avoiding people and new situations," says Gaurav Agarwal, 28, an executive with an insurance firm in Noida.
A sense of isolation can strike at almost any age and in any demographic sector -- young mothers who have left their job to take care of a child, divorcees unable to rebuild a social life, even seemingly confident college students.
The dynamics of loneliness
Loneliness seems ironic, even to those who are affected. India has never been more populous and more well-connected -- by phone, email, instant messagers, text message, etc. Yet, many are alone in the crowd.
This happens because people are increasingly busy. We have become a society where we expect things instantly. We don't spend enough time nuturing or developing relationships.
There is an increase in working/ commuting hours. Also, we are increasingly using the Internet to stay in touch with others, reducing the need for face-to-face contact.
We email each other instead of calling or meeting, so there seems to be a sense of connection. But the actual time that we spend with our friends and family is reducing. It's common for people to chat on the computer, instead of spending time with their family or going out to meet with friends.
Do remember, frequency of contact and volume of contact with another person does not necessarily translate into quality of contact. This means you could be talking, emailing, instant messaging a lot of people every day and still feel lonely.
How loneliness grows
It can affect you emotionally if you don't have people you can trust, confide in and generally talk to. It can even affect your health.
Loneliness doesn't always make sense. You can feel lonely in a room full of people -- at a party, for example. You may feel as if no one understands; that your partner, friends, colleagues and parents are not really interested in you. Such negative perceptions can play heavily on your emotions.
If you have to successfully battle loneliness, you need to recognise and understand the causes behind it.
For example, people feel lonely when there has been a loss such as the death of a spouse or partner, a close one leaving home, upon moving away from home, or leaving a familiar job setting.
"Loneliness can also be the result of an extended absence of a loved one. It may come about after a major transition, trauma or because of low self-esteem. Loneliness can occur even in marriages or similar close relationships where there is a lack of 'loving' communication," says Dr Misra.
Loneliness can be a big problem for single people, or those who are suddenly separated from friends and family. Students or working people who live away from home, those in higher positions who must remain aloof from their subordinates, or those with a disability or disease have a greater chance of feeling lonely.
Habits like watching television also rob us of social contact with others.
"Frequent relocation for career advancement too tends to discourage the development of deep friendships," says 29-year-old Harish Srivastava, sales manager in a Delhi-based MNC.
Why loneliness happens
Loneliness has surprisingly little to do with being physically alone. The issue is one of perception -- of not feeling 'connected' to people around you.
When we feel 'disconnected' for long periods, we feel lonely. Loneliness, thus, can be attributed to a negative pattern of thinking.
How to overcome negative patterns of thinking
Identify and get rid of patterns of thinking, emotions and behaviour that could be at the root of your loneliness. These suggestions can help:
What to do about your loneliness
Strengthen your network
Be a volunteer or mentor
You have your own set of skills, knowledge and wisdom. Share these riches with others. Whenever you give away your time, you get, in return, a feeling of joy and a sense that you are needed. You may also make friends in the process. For example, donate some time to an orphanage, local hospital, nursing home, cr�che or school. Or, offer your time to a place of worship.
Be a lifelong learner
Life seems more rewarding when you make learning a lifelong habit. You build new skills. You challenge your mental processes. You understand things and are able to adjust better. Most importantly, you keep growing and evolving. Of course, you also have more things to talk about with others, which makes you a more interesting friend. Here are some ideas:
Although fighting loneliness can be tough -- and it can return time and again -- you don't have to give in. Remember, your thoughts and perceptions are the main culprits. Once you start working on making them positive, you will successfully leave loneliness far behind.
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