Many people can feel lonely from time to time, especially at this time of year. As the cold weather sets in, days get shorter and darker, and people are often less likely to go out and socialise with others. This only increases feelings of loneliness. However, for others, loneliness can be a constant feeling. Loneliness can affect different people in completely different ways. For example, some people can even feel alone when surrounded by loved ones. A person can be lonely without being alone.
Loneliness can be described as the gap between a person’s desired level of human connection and the actual level of human connection they experience. It occurs when our desire for meaningful connections and relationships is not satisfied.
Although each person’s experience of loneliness is unique, those suffering often experience social isolation, feel left out, unheard, or feel like they don’t belong. This can have extreme effects on both mental and physical health if not dealt with.
The importance of human interaction
Human interaction is an essential part of life; it is only human to crave compassion and companionship. When this is taken away, you can feel very lonely and depressed. Here are some of the most common causes of loneliness:
The loss of a loved one
A sudden breakup
Moving to a new area or going away to university
Loneliness can be experienced at any age or moment in life.
According to the 2021 World Happiness Report, those who felt more socially connected during the pandemic had:
Higher life satisfaction
Improved mental well-being
It was shown that people with a strong support network could overcome challenges, be less stressed, and maintain a stable mental state.
What are the benefits of social connection?
Improves Mental Health: Connecting with others can give a boost to your mood, decrease stress levels, and even improve a person’s self-esteem.
Increases lifespan: research by PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) has suggested that being socially isolated can raise the chances of death by a staggering 50%. Furthermore, loneliness can lead to serious issues such as depression and cognitive decline.
Improved quality of life: social isolation can also be linked to health problems such as obesity, smoking, and heart disease.
What are the emotional consequences of loneliness?
There are strong links between loneliness and mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and substance dependency. Loneliness can also contribute to disruptions in eating and sleeping patterns. It is common for feelings of loneliness to sometimes develop to such an extent that they lead an individual to engage in acts of self-harm or have thoughts of suicide.
How we can help
The good news is that you aren’t alone; there are people who can help. The feeling of loneliness doesn’t have to be permanent. At the Henry Centre, we have experienced counsellors who can help you understand the cause of these feelings and discuss and resolve them to aid in your recovery. We provide the following therapies for those suffering from loneliness:
Tik Tok has exploded with full force onto our screens and while many of us may not be directly part of the community, much of social media is now awash with shared and re-shared videos, which cover a mind boggling array of subjects. Whether you are looking for a hundred ways to cook a potato, videos on people power washing filthy swimming pools or looking for financial advice, it is incredible to see the scope of information and entertainment that a random stranger on the internet will post up for all to enjoy.
An unexpected by-product of the rise of Tik Tok is a greater amount of information being shared about mental health issues and neurodiversity. Circulating in their droves are cheery checklists of common traits and symptoms, jovial anecdotes and highly relatable scenarios that most of us can feel a kinship with. As a result of this there has been a strong upswing in ADHD, Autism, DID and GAD assessment and diagnosis, in part down to the heightened awareness thanks to this sharing platform. But is searching for a diagnosis always useful?
In these situations it is worth considering whether having a diagnosis- either formally or self attributed will be a positive force. Many people who are neurodiverse find it a huge relief to be able to pinpoint exactly what it is that makes them different from others and gives them a starting point to work from, giving them opportunity to adjust expectations and ask for tailored help when it’s needed. Finding that there is a label, and therefore a community that you could be part of, who understands your life struggles can be really helpful and knowing you are not alone can make a huge difference. Those in a study environment, whatever their age, may also benefit from a formal diagnosis as it may mean that you are eligible for extra time in exams, extra help from educational settings and, if it feels necessary medication which can help you focus when you really need to.
The downside however of seeking a diagnosis due to information on social media is of course that these symptom checklists also run the risk of pathologising behaviour which is in no way a problem in day to day life. There is also the risk that the impact of other neurological differences, such as trauma, PTSD or ASD can be missed as the symptoms that are being experienced are attributed to ADHD or similar instead. As with a lot of neurodivergence and mental health issues, there is always the possibility of overlapping symptoms which need to be carefully looked at if they are proving to make living a fulfilling life difficult. In this instance the old maxim of ‘a little knowledge can be dangerous’ may well apply here.
The main problem with these Tik Tok videos is that they mimic what is often referred colloquially to as ‘the horoscope effect’- the act of reading a horoscope and feeling as though it describes your life perfectly, when of course it is entirely generic. While many young people are becoming quite rightly more informed about neurological differences, a lot of us are wondering if we maybe belong in these labelled categories too when perhaps we shouldnt.
The algorithms-the set of instructions which decide what videos get suggested to you, based on previous views- will often target people already following accounts which speak about neurodiversity, mental health and the LGBTQ+ community with content of a similar ilk. This means that many young people- the general demographic of these types of social media outlets- who already feel on the fringes of society may find comfort in finding experiences that they can relate to, and equally know that their experiences are shared by others. The result of this may end up being that people are overly identifying with these symptom lists and therefore diagnosing themselves without needing to.
It goes without saying that if you are feeling as though you are really struggling with life and your symptoms do seem to strongly tie in with what you are reading or watching then the best course of action is to get in touch with your GP who will refer you for a specialised assessment. It is true that a lot of adults today have had to navigate their way through life feeling different and only now realise that there is a name for it. Being able to avoid this struggle is always going to be a benefit.
At the same time, if you feel as though you would like to explore the symptoms you are having, or feel as though you would benefit from working through difficulties that are arising from these, then talk therapy is a perfect space to start. There is no need to have a formal diagnosis in order to access private therapy and it can be a great tool to help you find coping strategies to work with the differences you are experiencing.
Our Anxiety responses to COVID-19, as in any other response are informed by our internal world. It seems that people are pulled in one direction or the other and it can be challenging to find that balance between neurotic and pragmatic. For some the response is one of fear, for survival for them and their’s. For others there is more of a denial response, ‘well if we’re going to get it we’re going to get it, the flu killed 89k people last year….’ and so on. These are both different responses to the same problem.
An underlying anxiety that feels too difficult to cope with. We either choose to try and minimise, or desperately try to control the elements that we can. It’s difficult to find that place in the middle where we are concerned enough that we take this issue seriously and yet pragmatic enough to realise that beyond doing what we can in terms of precautions, there is little else we can do.
Our Anxiety responses to COVID-19 are informed by our internal world and will tap into our basic survival instincts. It’s difficult to sit with this anxiety and think about what it all means, in which ever way it presents. Particularly in relation to our internal world and how we relate to others, which will often be a reflection of our own experience.
I have heard of people being mugged for toilet roll and I have seen heartwarming British spirit, people coming together to help others in their time of need and offering whatever they have.
Life, is it a web or a ladder?
Life is a web, not a ladder! We were taught, particularly in this country, for many years that life was a ladder to be climbed. That success was about getting to the top of it. It’s not! Life is a web and in connecting and developing relationships with not just those close to us, but people throughout our communities and even those that we don’t know YET. This is what life is really about, how this mutual exchange of energy, ideas, kindness, interest and care provides what we really need, rather than what we think we need.
It takes a village to raise a child and a community to fight a virus. (Even if it is at a distance of 3m 😊) Stay safe people 🌎
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