It is a common occurrence to feel lonely from time to time. Maybe you’re new to a school and have no one to eat with during recess. Or you’ve left your hometown to work in the big city.
Even as communication technology expands its reach across the globe, millions of people feel bouts of loneliness.
While data for Malaysia is lacking, 60% of young adults in UK say they normally feel lonely and 46% of Americans have such feelings regularly.
Being lonely and being alone isn’t the same. Some people like being by themselves and dislike the company of other people.
Loneliness depends on the individual themselves, if you feel that way, then you are indeed lonely.
Introverts are generally stereotyped to be stricken with loneliness, but studies show that loneliness happens to everyone regardless of their sociability. Even if you are rich and powerful, it can get lonely at the top.
While hunger makes you crave for food, loneliness makes you desire social interaction. In humanity’s early days, it was important to be socially interactive to stay alive.
Humans developed the ability to read social cues
Being able to work and connect with others ensured survival and humans developed the ability to understand and recognise social cues.
Staying alive was not possible for an individual, staying in a group was required for survival. Natural predators and harsh environments were not as lethal as not being accepted into a group.
In response to this, humans developed “social pain”, which activates every time you are socially rejected.
This social pain warns you if you are engaging in behaviour that others may not approve of. That is why a negative response to your actions hurts, and why loneliness in particular hurts so badly.
Even with more people living in crowded cities, you will still meet fewer people personally and meet them rarely at that.
With how busy everyone is, it is easy to forgo the time you need to make friends and catch up with existing ones.
Then, one fine day, it hits you just how lonely you are. And it hits you hard. It’s much harder to form close bonds as you grow older, hence it’s hard to remedy your loneliness.
While you are technologically advanced compared to your ancestors, your biological and emotional needs are still very much the same.
Loneliness-induced stress damages you physically, causes you to age quicker, increases cancer effecs, speeds up Alzheimer’s advance and weakens your immune system. It is deadly and once it strikes, it becomes self-sustaining.
As you become lonely, you are paranoid of social interaction and imagine that people think poorly of you when they actually don’t.
The lonelier you are, the more attention you will pay to others but the worse you get at interpreting their reactions.
Positive or neutral faces are wrongly taken to be negative and that makes you think everyone is against you.
You end up creating a cocoon, isolating yourself from others and making them think you are naturally unfriendly.
To break the cycle, you must first understand what loneliness is
The loneliness cycle can be hard to break. It leaves you out of family gatherings and sitting alone during parties.
Constant loneliness can ultimately lead to depression and even if you want to break out of it, you can’t.
To break free of this cruel cycle, you must first understand that loneliness is normal and you’re not a bad person for experiencing it.
Pretending you aren’t lonely won’t get rid of it, but accepting that you are helps. Ask yourself, are you correct about a person having a negative reaction to you?
Could that frown actually have been a smile? Perhaps that compliment wasn’t sarcastic but genuine? Challenge your preconceived thoughts about the world.
It isn’t as bad as you think. Just one rude comment from a nasty person doesn’t mean there are no good and friendly people out there.
You will also have to change your behaviour. Are you acting in a way that warns people not to talk you?
Are you up for making new friends or are you comfortable where you are? Everyone has a different situation, and trying to deal with your troubles alone might not be possible.
So be brave and get professional help. Seeking help is not being weak but is a sign of bravery as you are willing to share your problems with others.
Loneliness is a serious issue. You may be surrounded by computers and mobile phones, but you still need connection with other people.
It’s time to put your social skills to use
Humans depend on each other to be whole. If you have been feeling lonely, it’s time to try out your social skills.
Meet up with a long-lost friend, or call your family members over for a meal. Go out for drinks with your colleagues and join classes to meet new people.
What suits you best depends entirely on you. Things might not work out, but that’s normal. Have realistic expectations; you’re trying to improve your social skills, not gather an army of friends.
Give yourself time and your efforts will bear fruit.