The Epidemic of Loneliness
Although loneliness is not technically classified mental health disorder in the Diagnostic Statistics Manual, this personal phenomenon can lead to both physical and mental illness. Loneliness can look similar to some forms of anxiety, but most often, it resembles depression.
A recent survey of 20,000 young people 18-24 years old showed that there is an epidemic of loneliness going on among young adults in the United States. The findings suggest that half the nation suffers from loneliness: the survey participants reported experiencing feelings of extreme loneliness and isolation: 46 percent young people report sometimes or always feeling alone, while 47 percent of them feel their relationships are not meaningful.
If you suffer from extreme isolation and loneliness, you may feel a lack of social connection with others and purpose in life. Furthermore, you may experience a lack or decrease of energy, and a sense of helplessness. Prolonged feelings of loneliness can lead to mental health problems such as anxiety, low self-esteem, and depression.
What Happens in Body when We Experience Loneliness?
Moreover, research shows that loneliness and isolation can negatively affect our physical health too. Studies have demonstrated that the brain of people with depression releases the higher amounts of cortisol, the steroid hormone which our body produces when we are stressed.
This neurochemical has a huge effect on our brain and body: acute stress, as the body’s immediate response to a threat, differs from chronic stress as the activation of the stress mechanisms over a long period. Research shows that, over time, the increased level of cortisol can cause serious illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, and other health conditions.
Why Are We Lonely?
Humans are social animals. Different studies showed that face-to-face interactions promote our mental and physical well-being and happiness. Examining the factors that predominantly contribute to our happiness, surveys find social connections, love, and intimacy as the most important aspects of personal happiness.
Nevertheless, it appears that despite our genuine need and desire to connect, a large number of people suffer from profound isolation and loneliness. Although surrounded by other people in our families, bustling school classrooms, marriages, relationships, or buzzing corporate offices, we often feel so deeply disconnected and lonely. Even fame, professional, and financial success don’t have the power to protect us from the subjective experience of loneliness. Furthermore, loneliness isn’t limited by age, gender, ethnical background, profession, or marital status. Hollywood stars feel it. Happily married feel it. As well as staying at home moms. Or high-school students.
Technology, devices, and social media have their share in the epidemic of loneliness. Though meant to connect us, these tools often lack the components that come with face-to-face interactions. Moreover, social media is flooded by the photos of happy, beautiful, and successful people that live in fabulous homes, drive expensive cars, have outstanding careers, and go amazing places. Comparing to those, our lives seem so imperfect, insignificant, and small compared to all those wonderful destinies. Consequently, we feel extremely lonely, isolated, and depressed.
The right amount of sleep, spending time with family and friends, exercise, and work can help in coping with loneliness. However, research shows that right balance of sleep, socializing with others, physical activity, and work is critical in feeling less lonely, as people who get too little or too much of these activities tend to feel lonelier.