“Solitude is pleasant. Loneliness is not.” -Anna Neagle
We Are Social Beings
Humans are social creatures. The way we have evolved over millions of years has contributed to humans being social beings and needing social interaction to effectively function. Over the course of time, people have used various means to communicate such as making sounds, using gestures, and talking with language. Humans were not meant to live in isolation and when spending too much time in isolation, problems in the human psyche can occur.
Examples of this have been seen in prisoners who have been isolated and kept away from the general population in prisons for extended periods of time. Other examples include the sad and unfortunate cases of infants who were “raised” in isolation for years, only to be discovered as children or adolescents and lacking many of the vital skills that make people independent, functioning individuals. Loneliness is an experience that humans have that involves both thoughts and feelings of isolation and separation from others.
What Causes Loneliness?
There are a multitude of things that could cause one to be lonely…
Being removed from society for long periods of time could cause loneliness. Such as, when people are ill or injured and are bedridden. Without getting out into the world and coming in contact with others, these individuals may start to feel lonely.
Other causes of loneliness are the side effects of mental illness. Just like with physical illness, individuals with mental illness may be contained to their bed or walls of their home.
For example, with depression, people often do not want to get out of bed because of they lack energy or lack the desire to do so. Depression and loneliness can go both ways as well. While feeling depressed, one may not have the desire or energy to go out and will be lonely as a result. The reverse is true as well, those who stay in bed and do not go out can become depressed, or increasingly depressed, as a result of the loneliness.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Other mental illnesses can play a part in loneliness as well. Those with PTSD may not want to leave their home and those with social anxiety experience may severe anxiety at the thought of going out into public spaces.
Internet, Social Media, Technology
Another emerging cause of loneliness in modern society is the internet and social media specifically. While the internet and social media were both created to connect people across the globe, these tools can also cause increased stress and loneliness in individuals as well.
While social media has provided a platform for keeping individuals connected that may not have been able to stay as connected prior to the invention of social media, it has it’s costs, nevertheless. Individuals now can chat and text without actual verbal real-time communication, much less face-to-face contact.
Relationships start and end on social media in today’s society without the individuals ever coming into physical contact with one another. This lack of connection has an impact on the quality of the relationship.
The Need for “Likes”
The invention of social media brought on yet another issue that may lead to loneliness in modern society…
This is the phenomenon of wanting, or even needing, likes on various social media platforms. Getting a picture, status update, or tweet “liked” by other people becomes a goal that people strive for. It is a means to evaluate oneself as liked, worthy, and popular. It has become a way for people to feel loved, appreciated, and connected. This is compounded with these “likes” being public domain for everyone to see and ends up being a measuring bar for one’s self worth.
Social media has spurred a platform for social comparison like no other before it, with it’s users having measurable data that is everlasting. If the user does not delete it, these posts are saved indefinitely with untethered access. In some cases, even if a user deletes it, other users on the platform can take a picture of it (by means of screengrab or screenshot) and can then share the image to the public at any point.
How to Cope With Loneliness
Clearly, there is a lot that can cause loneliness in our current society. What can one do if they are lonely? Thankfully, there are a number of things that someone who is lonely can do to battle and deal with their loneliness.
An important note, however, it is often uncomfortable (especially at first) to take steps to overcome loneliness. It is crucial that one be prepared for the discomfort and to have the resolve and mental fortitude to persevere through the discomfort.
Some (but certainly not an exhaustive list of) things individuals can do to battle loneliness include: scheduling out a time to talk with family and friends, going out to a coffee shop or a park, talking with a therapist (this is even more crucial if a mental illness is leading to the loneliness or the behaviors that are causing the loneliness), signing up for local clubs or sports leagues, getting involved in local politics, going to an animal shelter or somewhere with animals to play with, and going to events such as concerts, sports events, or festivals.
Alone Time Does Not Equal Loneliness
Finally, while being alone can be tough, it is also important to remember that we all need quality alone time as well. Remember, just because you are alone does not mean that there is something wrong with you. It is okay, and even good, to have time to oneself. But, if you start to feel loneliness and start missing social connection, it’s a great idea to do one of the things listed above to get back to having that connection with others that is so vital to being human!