Loneliness is not being devoid of people around but feeling emotionally or socially disconnected from others. You might be amongst an ocean of people but still feel isolated and left out because of your thoughts and attitude. Social media platforms, chatting apps and smartphones connect people living across different countries. Then why has loneliness surpassed obesity and smoking as a greater public threat to the society?
Social relationships remain integral to every individual’s well-being and there are sound research material backing the fact that social interaction and support protect against increased mortality rates. Despite such clear indications and results there is nothing much individuals and the society in general have done to curb this loneliness epidemic. That’s mostly because, the lonely individual as well as the people surrounding them mostly are unaware of the existence of loneliness in the person. Ironically, it isn’t straightforward and even well-appreciated when you talk about the ill-effects of obesity or smoking to a friend suffering from such habits, yet we do it out of concern. Why aren’t we showing the same concern, care and interest to approach a loved one/friend whom we doubt is suffering from loneliness?
The World is a Lonely Place
Loneliness has the power to make a person stressed, depressed, irritable and disconnected increasing the chances of premature mortality by as much as 26%. Economy and social status might remain higher in industrialized countries which also contribute as primary reasons for a third of the population affected by this condition and almost 1 in 12 persons suffering from extreme loneliness. Research shows many other conditions alongside premature mortality associated with loneliness. These conditions include increased blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, cognitive decline and depression. Apart from all these physical damages, the impact of loneliness on your physical health is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day thereby decreasing your chances to live by almost 8 years.
Total detachment or being entirely cut off from the outside world increases the risk of depression in such individuals and can even be a cause of suicide in old age. When people are not mentally stimulated they are at a higher risk (almost by 64%) of developing dementia. Even a long-term Harvard study proves that loneliness is toxic! More isolated people are, less happy they tend to be and brain function as well as physical health declines drastically. Check out on simple relaxation techniques to relieve yourself from depression and stress from the website www.firsteatright.com.
Loneliness is a contagious disease just like your cold and cough. Individuals who are lonely spread loneliness wherever they go and lose even the very few friends/contacts they have in their social list. We can argue and debate that people feel disconnected and lonely in a crowded place, but statistics and studies show that what people miss the most is the presence of a person or simply being together. Older people feel deprived of simple things such as a tight hug, sharing a meal together, holding hands, walking or going for a vacation with loved ones.
Being unmarried is a crucial cause for loneliness. At the same time, one cannot assure that marriage can make a person feel happy. It ultimately depends on the quality of the relationship. Even after living with spouse and in-laws, the girl/boy might feel lonely as he/she is emotionally disconnected and yearning for love.
From Sixteen to Sixty
Surprisingly, loneliness is not confined to the elderly population only and there are a shocking number of adolescents and young adults who feel lonely and left out. Loneliness takes a sharp dip from young adulthood through middle age and surges back in numbers not until oldest old age.
Children today are engaged with their smartphones and don’t have time even for parents. They sleep, study, eat, go out and even attend functions/restaurant eat outs with their mobile phones connected over people across the world. Alas, they miss the physical contact, conversation, laughter and closeness of people around them absorbed in their online chats.
Another major issue nowadays is that family sizes have shrunk and most children live in nuclear families where both parents are working to make both ends meet. Even grandparents don’t live with these families anymore and the child is left at the mercy of caretakers, television, mobile phones or daycare centers. Such kids spend time by engaging themselves in activities that include only themselves or rarely do they get to mingle with friends and share some fun. These grow into serious cases of loneliness and isolation affecting the physical and mental health of the individual greatly.
Unite Together & Laugh Forever
Take some time and think about a friend who has just lost her/his spouse or loved one, someone who has gone through a divorce or a person who might feel lonely or isolated despite being surrounded by people around. Reach out to them, laugh together, eat together and ease the isolation or loneliness and remind each other strongly that people do care and love.
People in our neighborhood, communities, families and associations must come forward and take solid steps to solve the loneliness problem. We can organize activities and fun shows for the elderly population, schools can take students to visit individuals living in home care, those with limited mobility or locked into their houses and families can arrange for reunions and ensure to meet their dear ones at least once a while to stay happy and make others happy as well. If you think, there are numerous other options as well to stay happy together with people.
Kids learn from their parents, teachers, friends and people around. When parents live together with many other family members, they are living examples of sharing, caring and affection. A mom laughing with daadi, a dad going for a walk with naani or nieces and nephews playing together are cherished moments of love, affection and goodness which can never be compensated by monetary benefits or socioeconomic status. Teaching children the need to exist together with compromises and compassion will take our society to the next level. We can witness less of old-age homes, young suicidal deaths or divorces.
Shun away seclusions, warm up to people around and try to socialize more to push loneliness into darkness and shine light upon your life. Loneliness will not disappear on its own. Creating awareness, discussing openly and efforts from every person living in the society can tremendously impact loneliness and it is upon us to make this happen.
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Dietitian & Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.