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Most of us, when we speak of loneliness or of being lonely, are talking about a feeling. It is a feeling described as emptiness tinged with longing, sadness or grief.
We may feel cutoff from others, bleak, desolate or desperate whether in a room by ourself, in company with significant others, or at a crowded party.
Loneliness comes from a real or perceived need for belonging that is not being met. It is also, for some individuals, the experience of sensing the disconnection among those around them.
Feeling lonely is not the same as being by one's self. People can be solitary and satisfied or solitary and lonely.
Loneliness, though uncomfortable, is a valuable teacher.
Despite being a teacher, loneliness is also a feeling people dread. Most of the time we just want it to stop. According to psychologist John T. Cacioppo, University of Chicago, loneliness undermines our ability to self-regulate.
Not being able to self-regulate means we might choose unhealthy ways of stimulating the pleasure center in our brain, such as eating a bag of chips or cookies, using addictive substances, or spending hours playing video games. Loneliness is temporarily relieved by these activities, but undesirable consequences are generated.
Prolonged loneliness can lead to depression and has other serious health implications as well, evidenced by research done at the Ohio State University Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research.
Researchers there discovered that lonely people produce more inflammation-related proteins in reaction to stress than individuals who are more happily connected with others:
These proteins signal the presence of inflammation, and chronic inflammation is linked to numerous conditions, including coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as the frailty and functional decline that can accompany aging.
Clearly, feeling lonely is not something that should be allowed to continue unabated. The mental and physical health consequences are too disturbing.
After snooping around the web, the most frequent suggestion given by doctors, counselors, and psychiatrists concerning loneliness is to become involved in activities where you are helping others and simultaneously have an opportunity to make new friends.
This type of activity facilitates new connections, prevents continuing isolation, and helping others is known to boost self-esteem; it is a self-help trifecta.
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